April 7, 2017 at 3:25 pm EDT | by Patrick Folliard
Real-life testimony inspires Rainbow Theatre Project’s ‘Historias’
Historias review, gay news, Washington Blade

The cast of ‘Historias,’ a thought-provoking new piece culled from real-life stories. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Monday, April 10
Rainbow Theatre Project 
Source, 1835 14th St., N.W.

Typically theatrical productions start with a script. Casting and direction follows. But with “Historias,” Rainbow Theatre Projects’ new performance piece featuring six local Hispanic/Latino LGBT young adults sharing personal stories, experiences, and thoughts, the actors were cast first and the script has followed.

“It’s not the easiest way to make a play,” says out director Tony Koehler, 32. “The cast bonds as family and friends and begins to share personal, sometimes super-emotional things. And from this we get our script. There’s a lot of laughing and crying involved.”

A recent Monday night finds Koehler and the cast seated around a hexagonal table in the intimate library at Luther Place Memorial Church just off Thomas Circle where the group rehearses. The 20-something actors are uniformly smart, likable and engaged. Most are also activists. With little prompting from Koehler, the table erupts into a lively discussion of topics including racism, colorism and white privilege. Some of what they discuss will become part of the play in both monologues and scenes.

While “Historias” (“Stories” in English) is different from most of Rainbow Theatre Project’s other productions, it fits the company’s mission to present plays and musicals that reflect the experiences, interests and history of the LGBT community. At about an hour long and performed in English with a little Spanish, the play is about coming out, family, romance and love.  “Historias” runs for one night only at Source on Monday, April 10.

An arts educator by day, Koehler is an instructor with Live Stories Program in D.C. public schools working mostly with recently immigrated youth from Central America.

“I’m often the only white person in the room,” Koehler says. “I learn a lot about Latinx experiences. And I’ve learned that sharing life experiences isn’t easy. And that goes for actors too who are more about assuming roles.”

“Historias” cast member Ariela Sirota concedes that initially it wasn’t easy for to open up. “I was really nervous at first, but after meeting the other actors I became comfortable and started to talk. Their comfort level made it easier for me to share my experiences. And since I met the play’s qualifications, I figured I’d do it.”

Is it more difficult to come out as LGBT in the Latino community?

The actors nod.

“For many of us, we’re discouraged from ever talking about it,” says Marlowe Vilchez. “That’s what’s been so great about making and rehearsing this play. It feels like therapy. You never know what subject will come up tonight.”

Josue Lemus, a language and culinary arts student who is making his acting debut in “Historias” says, “Oh yes. I’m from El Salvador. I didn’t grow up in America, so my experience is very different. So I’m still trying to figuring things out. This will be the first time I talk about all this publicly.”

Jhonny Maldonado, 21, adds, “It’s been quite a ride. I’m part of the D.C. theater scene and I wasn’t sure what I was getting into, but I knew it was something I wanted to be part of. It’s been really good to put everything on the table. Our LGBTQ community needs this and the entire Latinx community in general needs it too.”

While Boston transplant Skye Ellis says she grew up with a diverse crowd that never made a bid deal about her sexuality, she never realized the value of community before she moved to D.C. “I didn’t know what Pride was until about a month ago, and I just learned that there’s Black Pride. I’ve never read the Blade before, but I will now.”

“Being part of ‘Historias,’” says Ellis, “Allows me to explore the intersectionality of being Latina and LGBT. I’m also exploring my blackness. I love it all.”

A scene from ‘Historias.’ (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

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