Philadelphia’s acclaimed multicultural and multidisciplinary Power Street Theatre collective is developing its first musical, Silueta, about the intertwined stories of North Philly’s Latino immigrants and Arab refugees.
And to introduce it — and help shape it — the company is offering a virtual, pay-what-you-wish look at their work in progress all week.
The two-hour preview, called Silueta a New Musical and directed by Rebecca Aparicio, includes five musical numbers and bilingual dialogues in English and Spanish or Arabic. It was filmed via Zoom with cast members in five states around the United States.
Started in early 2019, the intense and powerful musical tells the story of Dinora (Daniele Hager), a Cuban immigrant who was sent off to the U.S. by her mother and finds herself sharing an apartment with Khalilah (Angel Alzeidan), an international art student from Syria, after leaving her neglectful husband and 20 years of marriage.
Their lives intersect in a North Philly loft, and they share their present and past struggles to find meaning, joy, and belonging away from home.
The story takes place in 2016, during a political moment when anti-immigrant sentiment and rhetoric have overtaken the presidential election. In international affairs, embargo restrictions are lifting in Cuba, and the Syrian civil war is escalating. The book and lyrics are by Erlina Ortiz, with music and lyrics by Robi Hager.
Ortiz said her upbringing as a Dominican migrant is reflected in the show.
“I was moved by the life and legacy of Cuban artist Ana Mendieta, by our santería traditions, by what it takes to assimilate in the United States,” she said. “So, I wrote about how memory, the ancestors, and the news — bad news — frame our decisions in life.”
She said the work gave its creators the opportunity to highlight the relationships between North Philly’s Arab Muslim and Latino communities, and bring their differences and commonalities to the forefront of local discussions around immigration.
“Finding a place after you were ripped from your place is a common experience for these communities, so we felt it was important to bridge the divide, to learn what made each case different to others.”
As part of the production’s development, Power Street organized a story circle in English, Spanish, and Arabic, to listen to North Philly residents who had been navigating experiences of immigration and representation in Philadelphia.
Gabriela Sánchez, the project director for the musical, said the company had wanted to produce Silueta for its 10th anniversary next year, but shifted to the virtual preview and delayed the release date because of the challenges of the pandemic.
She hopes the musical, with a non-white cast and creative team, becomes an example of diverse storytelling in theater, an industry with too few people of color in front and behind the scenes. “It’s not just doing the work, but the process of preserving our stories.”
The show is aiming to create conversations around Philadelphia’s immigrant relationships and how music builds a sense of community for these populations, Sánchez said. Power Street Theatre hopes to stage the production live in North Philadelphia in the next two years.
The preview can be streamed through 11 p.m. Sunday, July 18, and invites viewers to share their feedback with the creative team. Pay-what-you-wish tickets are available on EventBrite.