BY ROSALBA ROLÓN
During one of the many international engagements that our Pregones Ensemble has been involved in, we found ourselves in beautiful Slovakia, surrounded by its mountains, it’s people and our local creative partners of Divadlo z Pasáže. One morning, during breakfast at the hotel, the waiter, who knew we were in town for a theater event, asked us where was our theater located. We said The Bronx in New York. He opened his eyes and asked “Oh wow. Is it OK over there?”
Then on to Islas Canarias in Spain. Specifically in Agüimes, a municipality in Gran Canaria. It was an international Festival. Artists from all over. Day 1, during a break, a group of artists approached us: “You are from The Bronx? You are brave!” I could go on, as there is a point to all this.
How the heck did people from such various nationalities, countries, corners of the world come to form an opinion of The Bronx? The one place they believe they know everything about. The question is redundant. But the thought nagged me enough to ask the question again, this time from the stage. Our stage. How the heck…?
Fast forward. I find myself at Casita Maria, an anchor organization in the South Bronx. I had been invited to a panel conversation to select honorees for a community award. At some point one of the panel members, an elder, asked “do you remember the prayers in front of the buildings on Thursday nights? That’s because Fridays was a popular day for burning buildings.” The image froze me. Neighbors praying for the safety of their buildings. I was not born nor raised in The Bronx. I’ve lived and worked in The Bronx for 30+ years, and at that moment, all the pieces came together. The fires. The media. The arson-for-profit-business. I had no idea of how I was going to write this, or how the play that started brewing in my head was going to start. But I knew how it was going to end.
So much and so many important stories emerged from those who lived through the South Bronx fires of the 70s–neighbors, artists, activists. I am grateful for the inspiring conversations.
We premiered TORCHED! last year at Pregones Theater in the South Bronx. And we are running it again June 1-18th, this time at the Puerto Rican Traveling Theater, our theater in Manhattan, and a former firehouse.
Here is an excerpt from my Director’s Note, with a bit about the content of TORCHED! The full Note is published in our Playbill for the production.
NOTE FROM THE DIRECTOR:
“Working with a generation of artists who did not experience the fires firsthand—including me— or were at least very young then, was another way to add to the landscape of voices. TORCHED! takes us between past and present, points at the arson-for-profit business, and at the risk of repeating what many already knew, insists on the role of mainstream and dominant industries in destroying the reputation of an entire community: The South Bronx in particular.
I am grateful for the support from colleagues, advisors, friends, and neighbors who collaborated, challenged, and contributed to the content of the production as it developed.
So here is TORCHED!, for us to keep the conversation going. We must remain alert.”
The path to the fires was clear…for those willing to see it.
SPECIAL THANKS: Elba Cabrera, Doris Colón, Joe Conzo Jr., Caridad De La Luz, Julia Gutiérrez, Elena Martínez, Neyda Martínez, Oscar Olivier Didier, Edwin Pagán, Axel Piazolla, Clara E. Rodríguez, Petr Stand, Vivian Vázquez, Ken Corrigan & firefighters David González, José Prosper, FDNY Engine 38, Engine 54, Ladder 4, Battalion 9, LP Percussion, Casita Maria.
BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE!:
Check out two workshop productions from current Pregones/PRTT Step-Up Artists In Residence:
DATES by Christopher Cuevas tells the story of Índigo, a queer boy with big dreams of becoming an urban music singer and making a living from his art. June 23-24 at Pregones in The Bronx.
Flow with AirLoom Beats by Arabelle Luke showcases the artist’s beatboxing, vocal, and looping prowess, all matched with a message of joy and affirmation. June 28 at Pregones in The Bronx.
Photos of TORCHED! (2023) at Puerto Rican Traveling Theater by Krystal Pagán.