is the newest bilingual theater for family audiences offered by Zach Theatre. It opens Friday and follows in the footsteps of last year’s “Cenicienta,” 2013’s “Salt & Pepper” and 2012’s “Mariachi Girl.”
“We’re committed to continue to do bilingual theater,” says Zach Director of Education Nat Miller. In fact, bilingual shows usually don’t make money for the theater because of the number of students who see it at a reduced ticket price.
“Demand has been off the chart,” Miller says for the school shows. There’s an appreciation for bilingual theater, especially in Austin Independent School District, where 58.8 percent of the student enrollment is Hispanic.
Miller is trying to add more school shows so that more students can see it. The public shows are a harder sell, he says. Unlike the Cinderella story of “Cenicienta,” most people don’t know the story of Rivera.
“Tomás,” adapted by José Cruz González from Pat Mora’s children’s book, is the story of Tomás Rivera, who was born in Crystal City to migrant farm workers. One year when the family took work in Iowa, he met a librarian who helped him learn to love reading. Rivera later became the chancellor of the University of California at Riverside.
“He overcame some major challenges,” Miller says. “That’s why we tell the story. It is very hopeful.”
The play goes beyond what is in the book. With three actors who play multiple parts, we see young Tomás and his family take the car trip north to Iowa. Tomás is afraid of a teacher who belittles him for speaking Spanish and has nightmares about it.
While in Iowa, he wanders into a library where the librarian offers him some cool water and a cool place out of the heat. She brings him books to read and lets him check out books to bring home to his family. While he’s in Iowa, he improves his English and teaches the library lady some Spanish.
As he returns to Texas, Tomás is more confident in his reading and his English.
This year, Zach Theatre is working with the University of Texas at Austin theater and dance department. Director Tamara Carroll is getting her master’s degree there and this staging is her thesis production.
The two actors who split the role of the library lady are UT students, and Benjamin Bazan, who plays Tomás is a UT alum as is Miller. The crew is also split between students and professionals.
“Tomás” is being presented in the round Whisenhunt stage. The floor has been painted and large books and suitcases of books are scattered around. Set will transform into multiple locations using projections.
As Tomás reads the words in the book, the projections will represent those words in pictures.
“Tomás” also will teach its young audience about theater as well. We will see Claire Stephen and Kathleen Brown transform 40 different times from the library lady to three other characters. We will see people step out of one role, become the story teller, and then step into another role.
“There’s something about the beauty of theater where we show you the strings on the puppet and you’re invited to recognize that the magic of theater is happening before your eyes,” Carroll says. “There’s the pleasure of you blink and you’re in a new place.”
Tomás and the Library Lady.”
For ages 5 and up.
When: 6:30 p.m. Friday, 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through Feb. 14.
Where: Whisenhunt Stage, 1510 Toomey Road.
Tickets: $12 children, $16 adults. zachtheatre.org.
Author Pat Mora question-and-answer session. The author will be here for the 2 p.m. Feb. 13 show with everyone in the audience getting a free book, in partnership with Center for the Book.
Special autism/sensory friendly show 11 a.m. Jan. 23. The house lights will remain up, the sound will be lower, glow sticks will signal something upsetting might happen and there will be special places for breaks from the show.
More on Zach’s bilingual program
Read past stories and reviews online at austin360.com:
“Cenicienta” review, story
“Salt & Pepper” story