Cuesta College is taking its politically-charged original play “pool ’63” to Mexico City next month.
But before the company departs for the International University Theatre Festival in February, local audiences have four more chances to see the production live.
“Everyone needs to come see the show,” cast member Rainey Forzetting said. “Theater changes lives. Theater changes perspectives. You leave a (play), and it sticks with you forever.”
Set during the summer of 1963 in Birmingham, Ala., “pool ’63” examines how the lives of two 9-year-old girls — one black, one white — are shaped by the civil rights movement. The one-act, hourlong play, which premiered in 2013, was created in collaboration with director bree valle, who heads Cuesta’s drama program; her husband, Cal Poly adjunct theater professor and playwright Philip Valle; and Cuesta theater students.
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“We thought the show was good,” valle said, “but we didn’t realize it would resonate with people on such a level that it did.”
Gregg Henry, artistic director of the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival, described “pool ’63” as a “a rich, moving, student-centric exploration of a key moment in our history, staged and designed in a method that can only be described as being on the leading, cutting edge.”
“It’s the overall power of the work that did it for us and continues to do it for me,” Henry said, praising “the direction, the costume design, the lighting design, the movement, the acting, the text.” “Pound for pound, it (is) really an extraordinary hour in the theater.”
Cuesta’s upcoming visit to Mexico City marks the first time the Kennedy Center has selected a college or university production to represent that organization at an international theater festival, he said.
Technical director Richard Jackson and the Valles will accompany 19 cast members and two stage managers to Mexico City, departing Feb. 9 and returning Feb. 16. (They’ll be joined by videographer Jesse Roberts and photographer Steven Boothe, who works at Cuesta.)
During their stay, the students will perform “pool ’63” twice at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, which valle described as “the largest and most sophisticated space in a university city in all of Latin America.” They’ll also take in theater productions by other international groups and spend some time exploring Mexico City.
Also at the festival, the Valles will conduct a two-day workshop on creating original ensemble material — culminating in a new work focusing on Mexican history to be performed by National Autonomous University of Mexico students.
Philip Valle predicts “pool ’63” will appeal to Mexican audiences who are dealing with their own human rights struggles. “I think it’s a really dynamic, exciting time to be there,” he said.
Jackson will work with Mexican professionals to build the “pool ‘63” set on-site, with construction costs covered by the National Autonomous University of Mexico.
The university will cover some hotel lodging, meals and transportation costs during Cuesta’s trip, and the Kennedy Center is contributing $4,000 to help offset expenses. However, the students hope to raise an additional $20,000 to cover travel costs through private donations and additional performances of “pool ’63.”
Valle said theatergoers from all walks of life will relate to “pool ’63.”
“We have kids and grandparents and we have (white) farmers and African-Americans from the inner city sitting next to each other and all getting it,” she said. “That’s one of the things I’m most proud of with this show.”