How 3 Uptown Women Are Using the Stage to Empower the Community

By Carolina Pichardo | DNA Info


WASHINGTON HEIGHTS — The members and founders of the People’s Theatre Project all have different backgrounds and careers, but they all share a common desire to use the stage as a springboard for social justice.

Mary Anderson, 69, is a retired psychiatric nurse; Maria Aristy, 67, is a retired home attendant while Carmen Barbosa, 75, provided child care before she retired. All three of them are activists, actresses and program coordinators and volunteer their time and their artistic skills performing live original shows as well as staging original plays submitted by people from the community as part of the nonprofit's mission.

Their work typically travels to the residents via different venues in the community including schools and after-school programs, to help create and perform unique vignettes on community-driven topics, such as domestic violence, housing displacement, immigration and aggressive landlords.

“It’s like therapy for me," said Aristy, who has been performing with the program for eight years.

Among the performances she did was an intepretation of her personal journey to the U.S., which happened decades ago when she migrated to the country from the Dominican Republic with her four daughters. Soon after she arrived, she said, she was evicted from the apartment she was leasing through a friend. 

"I was forced to leave the apartment. I didn’t know English and didn't have my [legal] papers," Aristy said, adding that she was forced to send her daughters back to the Dominican Republic to briefly live with her ex-husband. "I used to cry all the time before. I was never separated from my daughters."

Aristy said although the wound of what happened is still there, and her daughters were able to ultimately return to the U.S. after she got her legal documentation in order and a steady job, it wasn't until she joined PTP and performed her story that she was able to heal. 

"That pain, quite honestly... I hadn't addressed it before joining the PTP program," Aristy said.

Barbosa said that her joining the program has taught her a lot about activism and what it means to seek out the resources necessary to survive as an immigrant in the U.S. The first play she saw, Barbosa said, was Aristy's story and it motivated her to join the group. 

"It called my attention, and I wanted to say something, but I didn’t dare, because I have never been on stage," Barbosa said. "But it motivated me and I said, ‘I’ll be there next year,’”

Mino Lora, co-founder of the program said that outreach and empowerment is what's at the core of PTP.

"Things that are difficult, because in our plays we talk about problems and issues, but there's so much laughter and so much community," Lora said. "It's about working as a team – even though some people don't speak Spanish or English – and how it's done is by going out and speaking to somebody or reading together... could be transformative."

As for the three actors said they hope to continue doing theater and prompting social change. 

"But there's still so much more to do in the community," Aristy said. "OK, I'm no Rita Moreno, but I'm at least doing something for my community and highlighting certain issues in a way that our community could understand."

“I hope to continue to be involved in bringing issues out in the open and getting people not only talk about it, but band together to do something about problems for the community,” Anderson said.

PTP will be honoring Aristy, Anderson and Barbosa during the final performance of the season of  "The People Storm the Palace," on Tuesday, May 23 at 7 p.m. in the United Palace on 4140 Broadway in Washington Heights.


See the original story HERE.