The Romero Troupe
WHO WE ARE
Inspired by the creative theatrical work of the students in my History classrooms at the University of Colorado Denver, I decided in February to attempt to bring non-traditional history, “history from below,” to the general public and particularly to working class audiences, through forming an organic theater troupe. In February/March of 2005, seven of us worked on a thirty minute play about the life of Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero. We performed this play at Regis University on the 25th anniversary of Romero’s assassination. The experience of learning about Romero’s life inspired us to name our troupe after him as a way of shaping our mission toward solidarity with the poor and marginalized. From that moment, the Romero Troupe entered an unimaginable trajectory, one that has taken us around the state and nation, through little-known history, and into as diverse an array of communities that we could have ever imagined
Without any theater background or training to speak of, I waded into the world of community theater with nothing except a vision and a conviction that the arts can open up the history of worker resistance and structural violence to those who have been denied any kind of empowering literacy in their formal education. It was an easy leap from Oscar Romero’s history in Central America to the long history of struggle of workers and immigrants in the U.S. Our first feature length play was entitled Speak American, an exploration of the roots of xenophobia in the U.S. The play was full of immigrants, documented and otherwise, telling their stories in first person, coming out to the larger community at a time when very few people dared to come out of the shadows. We performed this play three times for 800 people and began to see our profile and our popularity rise. The dream was beginning to take root.
WHAT WE DO
In the fall of 2007, the Romero Troupe began the work that has come to define us. We attempted to tell the history of the American labor movement in a single two hour play. The play was called, "Which Side Are You On?" and involved a series of stories about prominent strikes and labor leaders. We told stories such as the Flint sit down strike of 1937, the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire, the Ludlow Massacre, the Memphis garbage workers’ strike and death of MLK Jr., and the United Farm Workers and Dolores Huerta. A. Philip Randolph, Woodie Guthrie, and Mother Jones all made appearances in the play. To our great surprise, we performed this play to packed houses averaging nearly three hundred people per show. The play was so successful that we continued to schedule a performance every other month and this went on for two years! In the end, the play was performed eleven times for nearly 3,000 people. Our next play, A People’s History of Colorado, was equally successful and ran for one and a half years with 2,200 people in attendance for the eight shows. Since then, we have offered various plays about local Colorado history involving unknown activists, acts of resistance, and labor actions. The greatest surprise that we have encountered is the number of people who come to our shows. Without any kind of advertising budget, our advertising is limited to social media and email. Our average audience is about 250 people, making us one of the most successful theater groups in the city, one without a budget or a director.
The size of the troupe also continues to grow. Members give what they can, when they can, which makes it impossible to ever have a solid feel for the number of active members. Nonetheless, nearly one hundred people now contribute something to our shows and the average size of our cast on the night of our shows numbers in the forties. Over 500 people have participated in the troupe in some form or another. Our greatest lesson is that there is a deep hunger in the community for the history of struggle, a hunger to learn about social movements and unknown acts of courage and solidarity. This hunger is particularly pronounced for those who did not enjoy an empowering literacy in their education, those from low income and marginalized communities. Quite accidentally, we believe that we have stumbled across an important and powerful tool for revitalizing the labor movement.