Eight-year-old Carmencita dreams of being in her father’s mariachi band, but her father insists that mariachi groups should only include men. When she reads a book about a famous female mariachi, she begins to believe that she can do it too.
This is the premise of Roxanne Shroeder-Arce’s new bilingual musical, “Mariachi Girl,” for children and family audiences. This is the world premiere production of the play, which is a co-production with ZACH Theatre and Teatro Vivo, in partnership with the University of Texas Department of Theatre and Dance, and it premieres tonight in Austin’s ZACH Theatre with performances through November 4.
Shroeder-Arce, a theater professor at the University of Texas, has been writing plays focused on Latino youth for more than a decade. Yet she says it’s just recently that plays of this genre are being paid attention to.
“Theater companies are saying we have to be conscious of who is walking through the door,” she says. “It’s no longer something we can ignore. Latinos have been underrepresented for so long, but there has been a big response from teachers. And I have hopes for the social changes and impact from my art form.”
According to ZACH’s Education Director, Nat Miller, the theater already has had more than 10,000 students from dual language schools attending the matinées, and more than 4,000 students are expected to attend “Mariachi Girl.”
Twenty-year-old theater major at the University of Texas, Aisha San Roman, is thrilled to play her first big lead role.
“There’s not a lot of roles for Latinas,” she says. “I liked that [“Mariachi Girl”] was about a Latino family and determination – [Carmencita] doesn’t give up on her dreams even though her father doesn’t think it’s the best decision.”
San Roman can relate, because she also has the dream of being a performer, and sometimes her father worries that she should do something more stable. She says she hopes the important lesson of pursuing what you want, no matter what your race, transmits to the youth watching the play.
“He doesn’t want his daughter to be a mariachi, because he doesn’t want her to have a hard life,” says the playwright about “Mariachi Girl.” “Yet his daughter is extremely proud of her papi, and this idea of mariachi is part of her. It’s in her blood it’s in her body, its deeper than something she wants. He’s asking his children to assimilate, because he thinks that’s going to be easier. This is a father learning that he can’t just keep his culture in a box, he needs to share it.”
Shroeder-Arce says she and her Mexican-American husband are speaking Spanish at home to their six-year-old daughter and taking her to bilingual plays as much as possible, because she says it’s never too early to expose them to culture.
“I want kids to see brown people on stage singing in Spanish,” says the playwright. “I say that because Latino theater is absent and specifically in Austin. This is a Latino story about a young girl who has dreams, [showing] we can be whatever we want to be…I’m hoping that they walk away feeling, ‘I am part of this community, and people want to hear my story.’”