The Appalachian-Puerto Rican Musical!

BETSY! tells the story of a Bronx jazz singer forced to confront her twin Spanish Caribbean and Scotch-Irish roots. Her dilemma stirs up the ghosts of six generations of American women, and musical currents spanning four continents.

Premiering at The Puerto Rican Traveling Theater in Manhattan.

ABOUT The Musical

BETSY! tells the story of a Bronx jazz singer forced to confront her twin Spanish Caribbean and Scotch-Irish roots. Her dilemma stirs up the ghosts of six generations of American women, and musical currents spanning four continents. Soulful and funny, BETSY! grapples with a surprising, many-layered narrative that links an orphaned teenager tricked into leaving Ireland in the 18th century, her seducer, and their descendants, all the way down to Betsy, our sassy protagonist, finding her bearings in the rhythmic pulse of 21st century New York. This fresh new musical is alive with the fire of Jazz, Bluegrass, and Latin music compositions delivered by three powerful vocalists and a 5-piece Appalachian-Puerto Rican band on piano, violin, guitar, banjo, mandolin, bass, drums, and percussion.

The Collaboration

Dreamed up by Roadside Theater ensemble artists Ron Short and Dudley Cocke, together with legendary Nashville pianist Beegie Adair, and Pregones Theater ensemble artists Rosalba Rolón and Desmar Guevara, BETSY! exemplifies a collaborative creative practice that grows over time, engages an audience during the formative process, involves multigenerational artists of a high caliber, and results in a musical theater experience that is out of the ordinary. The team’s prior musical co-creation, Promise of A Love Song, toured nationally in 1999-2002 and is published in Ferdinand Lewis’ Ensemble Works: An Anthology (Theatre Communications Group, NY).

Roadside Theater

Based in the mountains of Kentucky and boasting deep roots in the local culture, Roadside Theater has created the single largest existing body of drama about Appalachia.  With 60 new plays to its credit, the ensemble has toured throughout the U.S. and Europe, performing in small towns and big cities alike since 1975.

Mastery of the Appalachian storytelling craft and musical traditions, involvement with audiences of diverse cultural background, and a distinct call for social justice distinguish Roadside’s art and ensures its popularity. www.roadside.org

HISTORY

HISTORY OF COLLABORATION

The creation of the original musical play Betsy! by Pregones Theater and Roadside Theater builds on two decades of exchange and collaboration between Kentucky and The Bronx, with shared credits in the creation and national tour of Promise of a Love Song, later published in Ferdinand Lewis’ Ensemble Works: An Anthology, published by Theatre Communications Books.

Coming 10 years after Promise, and now the outcome of a tried and true partnership, Betsy! tells the story of a Bronx jazz singer forced to confront her twin Spanish Caribbean and Scotch-Irish roots. Her dilemma will stir up the ghosts of six generations of American women, and musical currents spanning four continents. Soulful and funny, Betsy! grapples with the many-layered narratives of identity in the age of Internet genealogy searches and home DNA-testing kits.

First dreamed up by Roadside artists Ron Short and Dudley Cocke, together with legendary Nashville pianist Beegie Adair, Betsy! was then gradually developed and transformed with Pregones artists Rosalba Rolón and Desmar Guevara. The work exemplifies a collaborative creative practice that grows over time, engages an audience during the formative process, involves seasoned and developing artists of a high caliber, and that results in a musical theater experience that is out of the ordinary. Upon realization as a full-fledged Puerto Rican-Appalachian musical, Betsy! will set a new benchmark for Pregones and Roadside.

The partnership between Pregones and Roadside begins with a shared commitment to making a truly popular musical theater — one rich in aesthetic and thematic substance, experimental in its approach to narrative structure, and always honest in its portrayal of everyday people. The process involves validating and building connections between two distinct ensemble methodologies, and between two vast geographies and cultures, the Puerto Rican and the Appalachian. The process —like the work’s eventual form and content— will also honor certain differences while pushing for a new theatrical synthesis, both stylized and greatly entertaining.

Of the outcomes, Dudley Cocke likes to say that a new intercultural play is like the span of a bridge safely anchored on either side by different and independent structures, each one a formidable amalgam of ensemble craft, trust, and shared experience.

Roadside and Pregones also share an ability to reach poor, working, and middle class audiences of diverse background. In 20-plus years of trial and error, each ensemble has developed innovative ways to put this audience at the center of its creation, both at home and on the road. Roadside’s story circles consistently provide audiences and communities with a forum to tell their personal stories and respond to works-in-progress. Pregones has established a similar mechanism through active research and by opening up developmental readings and workshops to a live audience. Equal care goes into subsequent steps in new work development including play script, music, design, and production — each realized with an eye for lean, tour-friendly solutions without ever compromising the work’s proper scale and visual impact.
The alchemy of Puerto Rican and Appalachian artists working together takes hold in the criss-cross of these unique but complementary play development practices. If successful, audiences will experience Betsy! as something both new and resonant with Puerto Rican and Appalachian traditions.

ARTISTS

BETSY!

An  original musical play by Pregones Theater and Roadside Theater

Featuring:

ELISE SANTORA
CARIDAD DE LA LUZ (LA BRUJA)
PAT. D. ROBINSON

with musicians
ANTONIO GUZMÁN – cuatro & guitar
DESMAR GUEVARA – piano
SYLVIA RYERSON – banjo & fiddle
WILLIAM RODRÍGUEZ – drums
JONNY MORROW – bass

Set Design by BRIAN IRELAND
Light Design by LUCRECIA BRICEÑO
Costume Design by HARRY NADAL

Book by
DUDLEY COCKE, RON SHORT with ROSALBA ROLÓN and BEEGIE ADAIR

Dramaturgs
DUDLEY COCKE, ROSALBA ROLÓN and RON SHORT

Additional Text by
CARIDAD DE LA LUZ & WENCESLAO SERRA

Music by
RON SHORT, BEEGIE ADAIR & DESMAR GUEVARA

Lyrics by
RON SHORT & BEEGIE ADAIR

Musical Director
DESMAR GUEVARA

Directed by
DUDLEY COCKE & ROSALBA ROLÓN

 

ACTIVITY

BETSY! Scholars Cohort

By Jamie Haft and Arnaldo López

The Scholars Cohort is collaborating with Roadside Theater and Pregones Theater on the Appalachian-Puerto Rican musical Betsy!. The Cohort is: integrating this musical play and related materials into their pedagogy, classroom experience, and spring 2015 syllabi; bringing students to a live Betsy! performance in Manhattan’s theater district; participating in live and online conversations with the artists; and generating supplemental study and interpretive materials.

A Fresh Perspective on Documentation, Communications, and Archiving

The Cohort is developing priorities for documenting, communicating, and archiving the learning from the Roadside-Pregones ongoing 21-year intercultural artistic collaboration. Goals of this artist-scholar partnership include:

  • Develop high-quality multimedia to communicate the complexity of intercultural collaboration and play development. Make plain and accessible the values, vision, and practice that inform it.
  • Develop content with scholars, not just for scholars.
  • Create and share in-process materials that make the creative decisions transparent.
  • Advance cross-sector communication to expand the audience (for example, reaching beyond the silo of community-based theater).
  • Foster public dialogue around significant topics in Betsy!: bringing more reality to this country’s story about itself, including our complicated DNA; the under-reported role of indentured immigrants; and the permeable borders between rural and urban culture.

Activities and Timeline

  • ONGOING DIALOGUE: The Cohort is discussing contextual narrative and audiovisual materials drawn from prior moments in the development of Betsy!, including Jonathan Bradshaw’s findings from Cohort interviews about ways to create content relevant for scholars; photos and music; and a two-part Betsy! essay by anthropologist Maribel Álvarez. Cohort members are swapping ideas and sample syllabi for teaching students about Betsy!.
  • EVENTS AND MEETINGS: On Thursday, February 12th, Pregones and Roadside will host a conversation, Let’s Talk, in Manhattan, where Cohort members will interact with the artists. In April, an in-person meeting of the Cohort is being planned.
  • CONTENT CREATION AND SCHOLARSHIP: The Cohort is developing a March Blog Series for HowlRound/Café Onda. Cohort members are looking for opportunities to colaborate with Roadside and Pregones to publish scholarship about the companies.
  • PERFORMANCES: Cohort members are bringing students to the show. Click here for the performance schedule.

National Collaborators

Imagining America: Artists and Scholars in Public Life is collaborating with Roadside, Pregones, and the Scholars Cohort to share the project’s learning nationally. A consortium of 100 colleges from across the country, Imagining America advances publicly engaged scholarship that draws on arts, humanities, and design.

Get Involved

Join the Betsy! Facebook Event page for regular updates. For more information contact the Cohort’s Co-Chairs:

  • Arnaldo López at Pregones/PRTT (ajlopez@pregones.org / 718-585-1202)
  • Jamie Haft at Roadside and Imagining America (jamie@roadside.org / 315-345-3931)

Lets talk Betsy Feb12

THURSDAY, 12 FEBRUARY 2015 at Pregones in The Bronx:

LET’S TALK about BETSY!
The Appalachian-Puerto Rican Musical

This event is FREE
Please RSVP by calling 718-585-1202

Join the artists of Roadside Theater and Pregones/PRTT to talk about the creation and newest incarnation of their intercultural musical BETSY!, premiering Off-Broadway this April.

Learn about the collaborative genesis of the story of Betsy, a Bronx jazz singer of Puerto Rican and Irish background. Hear from co-directors Dudley Cocke and Rosalba Rolón, composers Ron Short and Desmar Guevara, and cast member Elise Santora, who plays the role of Spirit, one of the ghosts spurring Betsy to look into her past.

See and hear cast members perform heartfelt selections from Betsy! and share anecdotes of their time with co-creator and Nashville piano legend Beegie Adair. Witness a formidable musical relay between banjo and cuatro, two traditional string instruments of Kentucky and Puerto Rico. Learn about prior mountain-to-mountain musical exchanges between Appalachia and The Bronx.

Join the talk about all things family, culture, and mixed DNA!

Introductory comments by project guest scholar Maribel Álvarez.

This event is FREE, but RSVP is recommended: call 718-585-1202.

Thursday, February 12, 2015 @ 7pm
at Pregones in The Bronx
575 Walton Avenue, The Bronx, NY
(located between 149th & 150th Streets)
Trains 2, 4, 5 to 149th St. & Grand Concourse


LET’S TALK is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts. Art Works. Additional public funds provided by New York State Council on the Arts, with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the NYS Legislature, and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, in partnership with the City Council.

LET’S TALK about BETSY! is an event of PLATAFORMA: The Bronx-Broadway Showcase for Latino Theater at Pregones/PRTT, a cooperative performing arts presenting, commissioning, and producing initiative supported, in part, by funds from Theater Subdistrict Council, LDC.logo strip

 

VENUE

The Puerto Rican Traveling Theater
located at
304 W 47th Street, New York, New York
(between 8th and 9th Avenues)
Please note: this theater is not wheelchair accessible.