By ERIN ROLL
for Montclair Local
A unique play about the U.S.-Mexico border and the lives of the people who make their homes there will be coming to Montclair.
“The Frontera Project” will be presented by Luna Stage in a series of outdoor performances at 7 p.m. at Lackawanna Plaza Oct. 7-10, followed by three performances at Luna Stage in West Orange Oct. 14-16.
“The Frontera Project,” besides being a story about border communities, is also about the common experiences and challenges that people all over the world face, according to co-creators and directors Ramón Verdugo and Jessica Bauman.
It is a bilingual production and will be performed in Spanish and English.
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Rather than being simply a play where the audience watches the actors perform, the audience will be invited to participate as they wish, and share their own stories.
Verdugo is from a Tijuana-based theater company, Tijuana Hace Teatro, and Bauman is a New York-based director. Bauman had received a grant from New York-based Theatre Communications Group to work with Tijuana Hace Teatro on a project exploring life along the border.
In late 2019, the creative team took part in a weeklong workshop in Tijuana and San Diego. The actors spent the workshop discussing and unpacking the different stereotypes and narratives surrounding the border, using a variety of methods such as improvised acting and personal stories.
The show’s cast is composed of actors from Mexico and the United States.
Verdugo said that the play is a mosaic of moments in the lives of people living on the border, known as fronterizos.
Tijuana, as a major city on the border, is one such community. “This is our town, where we make art, where we say something,” Verdugo said.
Verdugo and Bauman said that the perception of the border, especially through the lens of media and politicians’ speeches, is a flattened, stereotypical view, characterizing the border as a place where people are always in transit, and where violence and unrest are frequent.
Bauman admits that she herself had a lot to learn about the reality of the communities along the border. “Everything I thought I understood about the border was wrong,” she said.
The show had in-person rehearsals and previews in Tijuana and San Diego this summer, and had its world premiere at Touchstone Theatre’s Festival Unbound in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
The production was originally supposed to debut in fall 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted that schedule. A Zoom version of the play launched this past winter.
Bauman said her hope was that people might surprise themselves, or be surprised at finding similarities between themselves and the people featured in “The Frontera Project.”
Verdugo said he believed that people would come away with a new perspective about the border, and an awareness of connecting with human stories from other humans.
“We share a lot of things,” he said. “We share conversation, ideas, music, a lot of things.”
Ari Laura Kreith, the director of Luna Stage, said that the company has done a lot of work over the last two decades with bilingual and multilingual productions. She has known Bauman since they were in college and welcomed the chance to bring “The Frontera Project” to the area.
“The Frontera Project” marks the return of Luna Stage to performamnces before live audiences.
“By sharing our stories, we deepen our connections, our understanding and our relationships,” Kreith said of the play. “I feel so grateful to be the launching pad for this.”
The play’s text is by Bárbara Perrín Rivemar and the cast of “The Frontera Project.” The design is by Jesús Quintero, original music is by Jassiel Santillan, and the creative producer is Natalia Escobedo.
The play was produced by Jessica Bauman, Jesús Quintero and Ramon Verdugo. The cast is Lou Best, Cristobal Dearie, Jesús Quintero, Jassiel Santillan and Valeria Vega.
To ensure audience safety, proof of vaccination (or negative test for those under 12) and masking will be required. Audience members are invited to bring their own chairs. Tickets are pay-what-you-wish, with a suggested donation of $20, and are available at lunastage.org/fronteraproject.