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Bringing Real-Life Tales of the Undocumented to All Five Boroughs

Date: Feb 06, 2020

Fandango for Butterflies (and Coyotes) and Border People give audiences a visceral sense of the immigration crisis


At a recent rehearsal for Fandango for Butterflies (and Coyotes), currently at La MaMa and scheduled to tour the outer boroughs, the very core of my soul was stirred as I listened to two characters speak blissfully about Honduras, where I was born and raised. While many plays about undocumented immigrants have focused primarily on strife and suffering, this production is full of unbridled joy, showing the full humanity of individuals who leave their homelands to escape violence and oppression.

Produced by pioneering immersive theatre company En Garde Arts, Fandango for Butterflies (and Coyotes) tackles the plight of the undocumented documentary-style, as does Working Theater's Border People, currently at A.R.T./New York Theatres. These two new works share powerful real-life stories of people who left their families, crossed borders and sacrificed everything in search of a fresh start.

Fandango for Butterflies (and Coyotes) was born out of En Garde Arts' Uncommon Voices series and the company's mission to "affect social change at its core," according to artistic director Anne Hamburger. In 2017, she recruited Latina playwright Andrea Thome to interview undocumented immigrants from Latin America living in New York, and those verbatim accounts were read by actors at a workshop at Joe's Pub. But as the script evolved, Thome decided she wanted to highlight their hope, not just their hardship. So she set the show at a music-filled party called a fandango, as the characters seek distraction from a rumored ICE raid.

"We're seeing a community in conversation with itself, and then opening up the doors to have a larger conversation with the audience," explains director José Zayas. He stages the production without a fourth wall, so theatregoers feel like they're part of the festivities as the cast tells stories and plays Sinuhé Padilla's original songs.

Fandangos originated in Spain and eventually gained popularity in Mexico, but Zayas, who was born in Puerto Rico, wasn't familiar with them until he started working on this show. He sees them as a vibrant example of how immigrants enhance and expand their adopted country's culture. "I'm working with a Guatemalan and a Cuban and someone from the Philippines," he says of his collaborators. "It's really wonderful to be able to see how something like the fandango is exploring the idea of a melting pot."

After its stint at La MaMa in the East Village, Fandango for Butterflies (and Coyotes) heads to the LaGuardia Performing Arts Center in Queens; the Snug Harbor Cultural Center on Staten Island; Lehman Stages and Open Hydrant in the Bronx; and the Irondale Ensemble Project in Brooklyn. Tickets at all venues range from $10 to $25. Making the production as affordable and accessible as possible was key so that the show and its message can "reach a broad swath of people," says Hamburger, including, she hopes, those who will see their experiences reflected on stage.


Border People, a one-man play written and performed by Dan Hoyle, will also bring its immigration-related stories to the outer boroughs once it wraps up its Midtown Manhattan run at A.R.T./New York Theatres. After the 2016 presidential election, Hoyle traveled across Canada, Mexico and the U.S. and collected a diverse array of narratives. Á la Anna Deavere Smith, he inhabits his interviewees, including an Iraqi teenager who feels at home with the Amish, an HIV-positive Mexican man who was deported to a country he no longer considers home, and a Latino border patrol officer who explains his conservative views.

Hoyle, who is white and American, feels privileged to share these intimate tales, and understands the responsibility he has to portray these people of color with care and nuance. "It's my job to tell their stories," says Hoyle, who calls what he does "journalistic theatre."

He's particularly looking forward to performing Border People at the Bronx Documentary Center, since he conducted interviews in that borough and some of the people he's playing may come. That might also happen at Fandango for Butterflies (and Coyotes), though the characters have been slightly fictionalized. Ultimately, Hamburger dreams of doing the show outside of New York City, particularly at the U.S.-Mexico border where "they do fandangos with musicians playing on each side of the wall," she says. May their music and joy help break it down.


TDF MEMBERS: At press time, discount tickets were available for Fandangos for Butterflies (and Coyotes) and Border People. Go here to browse our current offers.

Jose Solís is a NY-based writer and editor who's been covering theatre and film professionally since 2003. He is a member of the Drama Desk. Follow him at @josesolismayen. Follow TDF at @TDFNYC.

Top image: Silvia Dionicio and Frances Ines Rodriguez in rehearsal for Fandango for Butterflies (and Coyotes). Photo by Maria Baranova.