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In Chelsea, a Latino theater company makes its debut

Jaime Hernandez is among the actors and artists on Teatro Chelsea's governing board.
Jaime Hernandez is among the actors and artists on Teatro Chelsea's governing board.

On a recent Friday evening, a talented cast of Boston-area Latino actors participated in a Zoom reading of “Anna in the Tropics,” Nilo Cruz’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play about the drama that ensues when a family-owned cigar factory hires a reader to entertain the workers. The performance marked the debut of Teatro Chelsea, a new theater company launching under the auspices of the Apollinaire Theatre Company/Chelsea Theatre Works.

Teatro Chelsea grew out of Apollinaire’s desire to create more opportunities for theater that reflects the interests of the Chelsea community, where Latinos make up two-thirds of the population. Jaime Hernandez, a 19-year-old actor and Chelsea resident who has performed in several small theater company productions, including Apollinaire’s, immediately stepped up to serve on the board.

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“We really want to find a way to eliminate barriers that prevent Chelsea residents from attending or participating in theater,” says Hernandez. “One way is to offer bilingual productions, another is to schedule performances at times that respect people’s work schedules. We are also opening auditions to residents and will adjust our rehearsal schedule to meet their needs.”

Hernandez is one of six members of Teatro Chelsea’s governing board, which also includes actor Armando Rivera, producer Edwardo Chacon, Salem State University theater student Yeimi Benitez, Chelsea High School theater director Kariana Santos, and filmmaker Oldren Leyva Romero.

Teatro Chelsea, which will operate under the auspices of Apollinaire, received a Creative Catalyst grant from MassDevelopment to help it launch. Its governing board is now looking to hire a part-time program manager.

“I love the fact that the board already includes a filmmaker, a poet, and a musician, in addition to theater artists,” says Apollinaire founder and artistic director Danielle Fauteux Jacques. “Initially it will provide opportunities for more bilingual performances and serve as a community theater, but with the wide range of artistic interests, it will be exciting to see what emerges.”

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Planning for Teatro Chelsea began in early March, before everything changed. Hernandez says the original plan was to have a fund-raiser in September, followed by two full productions — one in December and one in April 2021. But, he says the company will follow the lead of the larger Boston theater companies and hold off until January before attempting to make any plans.

“I see this as a great learning opportunity for me,” says Hernandez, “and whenever we can get it going, the goal is to make Teatro Chelsea fun, and to make it feel like home for audiences and performers.”

In the meantime, Apollinaire took a break after 14 weeks of Zoom play and screenplay readings to prepare for this summer’s substitute for Apollinaire in the Park, “Chelsea Stories,” three new Zoom plays, each based on the life of a Chelsea resident. The three residents will be selected by a community group, and the cast will devise the play over the course of a week, include some original music, and present the production either in Spanish or English with subtitles on consecutive Saturday nights July 25, Aug. 1, and Aug. 8. For more information, go to www.apollinairetheatre.com.

Spooky summer-camp tales

Sparkhaven Theatre, which produced a haunting, gender-fluid adaption of “Nosferatu” on Zoom when its scheduled production was canceled, didn’t want to lose the momentum. So it has kept going. Every Sunday evening from July 19-Aug. 23, the company is presenting “Tales From Camp Strangewood,” six 30-minute episodes set in the cabins of campers just after lights out. (They will be available for viewing on www.sparkhaventheatre.com and YouTube.)

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“We enjoyed the challenge and the opportunities of rehearsing and presenting ‘Nosferatu’ on Zoom,” says artistic director Hannah Pryfogle. “This platform is available. What can’t we do?”

She and the Sparkhaven artistic team, including “Nosferatu” playwright M. Sloth Levine, along with “Nosferatu” composer and performer Alissa Voth, came up with “Camp Strangewood.” Levine serves as the showrunner, creating a rough outline, including “Camp Rules” that describe the look of the camp, some common names of the camp director and counselors, and a “mood and style guide.” Although each episode has its own dramatic arc, Levine is holding the stories together by including recurring appearances by a few characters. Voth composed a theme song for the series.

“We wanted to honor the supernatural metaphor and examine our fears,” says Pryfogle, “and then invite as many people as we could to gather the most ideas.”

Nearly 50 performers and directors collaborated on “Camp Strangewood,” which Levine describes as an amalgam of a Web series, Zoom theater, and radio plays.

“It’s a new style of storytelling that requires different framing devices,” Levine says.

Each episode takes place in a different camp cabin on the same night. The playwrights knew the actors they would be working with ahead of time, so that they could write the story with those individuals in mind. The episodes include “The Puritans,” by Phaedra Michelle Scott (July 19), “Mister Champagne,” by James La Bella (July 26), “The Legend of Ghost Girl,” by Hayley Spivey (Aug. 2), “Double Trouble,” by Alexis Scheer (a mini-episode available on Instagram Aug. 5), “Shipwreck Cabin,” by J. Sebastián Alberdi (Aug. 9), “The Rooster and the Magnet,” by Marge Buckley (Aug. 16), and “Conflict Resolution in Cabin Six,” by Levine (Aug. 23).

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Sparkhaven Theatre received a Transformative Public Art Grant from the Mayor’s Office of Art and Culture, which covers half the cost of the production. While viewing is free, donations are appreciated.

Double Edge’s Summer Spectacle goes on

Double Edge Theater in Ashfield, which has won acclaim for its Summer Spectacles, will present “6 Feet Apart, All Together” July 22-Aug. 9. This spectacle will include favorite moments from past performances and a nod to the theater’s beautiful natural surroundings. Audience sizes will be limited, allowing small groups to spread out across the outdoor spaces. Go to www.doubleedgetheatre.org or call 413-628-0277 for details.

Four dramas set in a future Boston

The Huntington Theatre Company has commissioned several local playwrights to create short audio dramas. For “Dream Boston,” the Huntington asked Melinda Lopez, Kate Snodgrass, Kirsten Greenidge, and Brenda Withers to compose six-minute dramas based on their favorite Boston places, set at some time in the future when we can meet in person again. Locations include the Lexington Green, MIT Great Dome, the Boston Public Library, and the Boston Common. Learn more at www.huntingtontheatre.org/dream-boston.

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Terry Byrne can be reached at trbyrne@aol.com.