Theater with a Kick

Theater with a kick photo

Couple Wrestles with Latino Subject Matter

Live from Milwaukee, it’s Saturday morning theater – featuring a perspective you might not find on many other stages.

Except for San Antonio, or Houston. Together, those three cities are fertile creative ground for the Royal Mexican Players, whose married founding members, Alvaro Saar Rios and Michelle Lopez-Rios, brought their academics and their acting to UWM’s Peck School of the Arts in 2006.

Whether they are working on a project individually or as a team, Lopez-Rios says the Latino voice has always been at the core of their research.

“We started the Royal Mexican Players to tell Latino stories, those that were not being told onstage and in film,” explains the associate professor of voice and speech and head of acting at the Peck School. “We are both interested in getting people’s stories out, but we approach it in two different ways. I do it more by literally telling the actual story, and Alvaro does it mainly from the writing standpoint.”

In early 2015, Rios completed a play set in the world of lucha libre – Mexican wrestling. Rios, an assistant professor of playwriting and analysis, describes “Luchadora” as the story of a young woman who finds a pink wrestling mask and is taken on a journey into her Mexican-American heritage.

One Saturday morning, somewhere around the fourth draft, “Luchadora” was presented as a staged reading at the United Community Center on Milwaukee’s south side. The experience helped Rios mold the final project.

“It’s an opportunity to research what works and what doesn’t,” he says. “It also serves to let the community feel they are part of the development process, which they are, and that gets them more invested in the work. This is what I love about theater.”

A workshop production took place this winter in San Antonio, while costume fittings and set design were underway at First Stage, a Milwaukee theater company that caters to young audiences. “Luchadora” will make its world debut there in April with Lopez-Rios performing in a main role.

“For the arts, research is not about publishing books and papers; it’s about putting your art out there,” adds Lopez-Rios. “Our research is our art, and making it happen is our version of publishing. The advantage is that as opposed to someone reading your work in an office somewhere, we get the immediate reaction of the audience. We know right away if they liked it or not.”

Among their fans and community connectors is Griselda Aldrete, executive director of Hispanic Professionals of Greater Milwaukee.

“I have known Alvaro and Michelle for a number of years,” she says. “I think their work has been very important to the Latino community and to Milwaukee as a whole. They bring some cultural diversity to a city that sometimes still struggles with race and segregation issues. It’s great to have this kind of talent in our own backyard.”

This article was printed in the UWM 2015 Research Report