Few playwrights encapsulate the wonders of multi-generational experiences better than Associate Professor Alvaro Saar Rios. A lifelong Texican and head of the Theatre Practices (BA) program at Peck School of the Arts, Rios has published six plays and amassed a wide range of accolades taking his plays across America. He has worked with esteemed organizations such as the Kennedy Center, First Stage, and Houston Grand Opera.
Throughout Fall 2023, Professor Rios has seen many of his plays take center stage in a variety of American theatres, a testament to his ability to connect with and inspire others through the written word.
Carmela Full of Wishes
First up, Rios’ Carmela Full of Wishes opened this September. An adaptation of the New York Times Bestseller created by Matt de la Peña and Christian Robinson, Carmela tells the story of the titular character making a birthday wish alongside her brother. The play tells an enriching tale of working-class neighborhoods, immigration in modern times, and the strong bond within our families. The play is bilingual and performed in both English and Spanish.
When sitting down with Professor Rios, he discussed the desire to continue telling stories that revolve around issues that children are dealing with today, specifically gender inequality. “What’s great about young audience theater is that you can take on the tough subjects because kids go through it,” Rios said, adding that the issues he talks about are multigenerational.
The script has made its way around Texas this year running at Main Street Theater in Houston, Blinn College in Bryan, TX, and The Magik Theatre in San Antonio. Carmela shows no signs of slowing down, with a planned run at The Growing Stage in Netcong, New Jersey this winter.
Like a Jet-Fueled Mariposa
Carmela was not the only piece by Rios brought to life in Houston this fall. His short play Like a Jet-Fueled Mariposa was featured at the 5th La Vida Es Cortos Festival. Co-written with the nationally produced playwright Mabelle Reynoso, this short play tells a futuristic tale about two undocumented sisters seeking a better life by building a spaceship together until it is revealed one sister may have different intentions than the other.
Mariposa and Carmela Full of Wishes played simultaneously in Houston, which happens to be Rios’ hometown. As a result, Professor Rios got to showcase his work to family and friends who primarily interact with his plays through social media. When asked about the occurrence, Rios commented that this was a great opportunity to encourage audiences of all ages to attend: “I have friends who don’t have kids but really love my work that went to both… friends all across Texas got to see what I’ve been working on.” The piece was produced by the nationally recognized Latinx theatre company Teatrx and is scheduled for publication later this Fall.
The Mole Hill Stories
Keeping with his theme of bilingual adaptations, Professor Rios adapted Wisconsin author Lois Ehlert’s children’s stories Mole’s Hill, Cuckoo, and Moon Rope into The Mole Hill Stories. Described as stories that ignite readers’ imaginations, the lead character Topo takes viewers on a journey of discovering the wonders of natural beauty and the world that surrounds us. A vibrant and colorful experience, this piece represents the importance of imagination in storytelling to help inspire others to reach for their dreams.
The Mole Hill Stories recently closed a successful run at the historic Merle Reskin Theatre at DePaul University in downtown Chicago. Additionally, the play has been published by TRW Plays, an international publisher and licensor representing award-winning playwrights.
If all of that was not impressive enough, Rios will return to Milwaukee with a stage adaptation of Pam Muñoz Ryan’s award-winning novel Esperanza Rising. On December 13, a staged reading of the play will occur as part of First Stage’s Amplify Series.
This is far from Professor Rios’ first time showcasing his work at First Stage. As a resident playwright with the theater, UWM students have a place to interact with his plays live and in person: “The fact that my work gets developed at First Stage a lot, my students get to go see my work to show that I don’t just profess about this. This is what I do… In the worlds of Latinx Theater and Theater for Young Audiences, I continue to develop work.”
But wait! There’s more!
Alvaro Rios stays very busy in the theater world. He is currently developing a new play as a part of the BIPOC Superhero Project. Ruis has been commissioned by Lexington Children’s Theater in Kentucky to develop a new play. “Twenty-six theaters across the country have each commissioned a playwright to create a BIPOC Superhero Story,” Rios elaborated. His play is tentatively titled Quetzali vs. The Alebrije of Darkness and is expected to debut in the Spring of 2025.
Rios is also working with Seattle Children’s Theatre to present a 7-performer version of his award-winning play Luchadora. The play is scheduled for production in February 2024 in downtown Seattle.