In late 2013, the Raíces Theatre Company returned to Buffalo's theater scene after a 10-year absence with a production of Carmen Rivera's play "La Gringa."
It was a resounding success that registered deeply with Buffalo's Latino community, whose members had long been hungering to see their lives and experiences represented onstage.
Since then, Raíces' reach has expanded gradually, from one-weekend runs to three-weekend runs. Its ensemble has grown to 12 members. It has found a home in Subversive Theatre's Manny Fried Playhouse.
And on May 26, the company will reach an important step in its development that has long been a dream of founder Victoria Pérez: to present an evening of short plays written entirely by local playwrights and members of its growing ensemble.
The 10 plays touch on issues of female empowerment, religious and family dynamics, the importance of maintaining Hispanic cultural traditions. The evening also includes one non-Latino perspective from the company's only Caucasian member, Steve Brachmann. If your Spanish isn't quite up to snuff, don't worry too much: the dialogue ranges from "mostly English with light Spanglish up to full Spanish dialogue."
The plays are collected under the title "Desde el Puente," or "By the Bridge," a title taken from a radio novella written by Pérez's father, the late Latino activist, writer and radio personality Rafael Pérez.
"As a Latinx theatre company," Pérez wrote in a statement, using the increasingly popular non-gendered term to describe the community Raíces serves, "we have a responsibility to tell our stories and to develop the skills of our talented ensemble. It brings us great pride that 'Desde el Puente' is completely produced, written, directed and acted by the ensemble."
Pérez said that the local approach emerged after a nationwide call for last year's version of the short play festival yielded somewhat scattershot results. As the company tries to refine and strengthen its ensemble, she said, the notion of doing a fully local production seemed more attractive than sorting through hundreds of submissions.
"When we first began with the whole ensemble idea, it took a while for us to figure out what we wanted to do with it," she said. As the company has grown more attuned to the interests and appetites of Buffalo's large Latino community, the work has become increasingly rewarding.
"The best compliment is when someone says, 'I know that person,' " Pérez said.
Pérez wrote two plays for the festival. "Anniversary," is set entirely in a bathroom stall, where three women bond over their relationships. "America Habló," or "America Spoke," emerged from her experience watching the 2016 presidential election and trying to square her expectations with the reality of the outcome.
Raíces ensemble members Alejandro Gómez, Dewel Pérez, Maria Pérez-Gómez, Marta Aracelis and Brachmann also contributed plays.
Asked to take stock of how far the company has come since its relaunch almost four years ago, Pérez said that she is pleased with the company's growth and that it has been able to realize its mission.
"We set out to put our people onstage, to tell our stories, to see the reflection of ourselves on stage and to use theater as a vehicle of self-revelation," Pérez said. "Every day that's what we're striving for."
What: "Desde el Puente"
When: May 26 to June 11
Where: Manny Fried Playhouse, 255 Great Arrow Ave.
Tickets: $15 to $20
Info: 781-9333 or raicestheatrecompany.com