A History in Power
Power Street as we know it was once a dream conceived by Gabriela Sanchez and Erlina Ortiz when they were completing their undergraduate studies at Temple University. Little did they know that Power Street would grow to become a collective of resident artists committed to community-driven programming. Scroll down to see Power Street’s journey through our production history!
Power Street’s first production was MinorityLand as a part of the 2013 Philly Fringe Festival. Written and directed by Erlina Ortiz, the play explored gentrification in a historically BIPOC neighborhood. MinorityLand performed for six evenings in North Philadelphia’s Centro del Oro. The audiences were as diverse as you can imagine – age, race, sex, educational experience. In all their years of theater-going, Erlina and Gabriela had never seen an audience like that Power Street audience. Entire audiences stayed after each night for post-show talkbacks, and their conversations reflected the exhilaration of hearing Spanish on stage – seeing characters that reminded them of their own friends and family. It was in this room that Power Street knew something special was happening.
Gabriela was already teaching theater in North Philadelphia’s Taller Puertorriqueño, learning the nonprofit world, and building connections to artists and audiences in the community. Gabriela and Erlina embarked on a journey to bring theater into their own community, inspired by their experience in the - often segregated - city of brotherly love. And then they dove in!
In the same year as producing their first show, Power Street joined NoPassport’s national reading festival called 30/30/1 which celebrated new plays by Latinx playwrights. In partnership with Philadelphia New Play Initiative, The One Minute Play Festival, Director’s Gathering, Dominic D’Andrea, and Tamanya Garza – Power Street brought together a panel of diverse art makers and presented a reading from one of the 30+ NoPassPort playwrights.
No Passport 30/30/1
The cast and team of MinorityLand (2013)
Power Street, in partnership with Philadelphia’s Women in Transition (WIT), presented Morir Sonyando by Erlina Ortiz in the 2014 Philadelphia FringeArts Festival. The play was then remounted in partnership with Women Against Abuse (WAA) at Temple University for Lambda Theta Alpha Sorority Inc.'s Founders Week. Each Power Street performance was followed by interactive talk-backs facilitated by WIT and WAA’s team of professional anti-violence advocates, who also provided domestic violence resources and literature in the space.
This production aimed to heighten the consciousness and expose the realities surrounding the issue of domestic violence. During talkbacks, we realized many community members identified with the experiences of the characters, and our talkbacks became a space for healing and breaking the silence.
Power Street ended the year with a special staged reading of MinorityLand at the University of Pennsylvania for the 2014 Festival Latino.
"I applaud…Morir Sonyando for bringing to light the issue of domestic violence. Our communities need to be educated about this subject, and people need to talk about it. The public needs to understand that domestic violence is about power and control. Every woman is at high risk of encountering domestic violence. Statistics show that one in four women will experience domestic or intimate partner violence at some point in her lifetime…I sincerely thank Power Street for this production. I think everyone should see it." - Ruth Marquez
Shelter in Place by Alisha Adams premiered in the 2015 FringeArts Festival in partnership with Norris Square Neighborhood Project and Power Street. This immersive, site-specific experience engaged youth and sparked community dialogue. Shelter in Place imagines what it takes for two Puerto Rican women to survive the fall of America. The production was followed by a staged reading at Rutgers University in New Brunswick.
This was the first time Power Street partnered with a non-resident artist playwright.
Shelter in Place
Photo Credit: Emily Bucholz
She Wore Those Shoes
Playwright Erlina Ortiz workshopped She Wore Those Shoes with Theatre Exile and Power Street. Inspired by the documentary entitled The Invisible War, Erlina’s play explored the prevailing issue of sexual assault within the United States military and the silence, stigma, and negligence that survivors often face.
Presented in partnership with Warrior Writers, dedicated to articulating veteran experiences and fostering a collaborative community for artistic expression; as well as Women Organized Against Rape (WOAR), a non-profit committed to eliminating sexual violence through preventative education programs and free counseling services for those who have experienced sexual violence.
Then Power Street presented their first devised piece, Out of Orbit, created and performed in 2016 by Gabriela Sanchez, Erlina Ortiz and Diana Rodriguez, which explored the complexities of privilege. This piece was produced as part of the 2016 (re)Focus Fest at the Rotunda in West Philadelphia.
"The talkback after Erlina Ortiz's She Wore Those Shoes at Power Street Theatre was moderated by a representative from WOAR (Women Organized Against Rape), and it was where Power Street's collective really came to life. The overall message of the evening, coupled with Power Street's commitment to community outreach, is deeply refreshing. Their approach not only attracts a diverse group of artists, but also a diverse audience, and everyone is committed to having difficult conversations."- Broad Street Review
Power Street launched their summer art series called Theatre Al Fresco (then Theatre en las Parcelas). In partnership with the Las Parcelas Garden and Norris Square Neighborhood Project. Theatre Al Fresco features three different open mics which feature various Philadelphia performers, and encouraged emerging artists and community members to share their stories, songs, and performances in a friendly open mic setting.
Hosted in the beautiful garden, Theatre Al Fresco is always a pay-what-you-decide event in an effort to break down barriers between community members and performing art experiences. Power Street has featured poets, drummers, dancers, painters, comedians, and storytellers from all walks of life in the five years of it’s programming.
Theatre Al Fresco
“There’s this stigma that people of color don’t like theater, but the reality is that that’s not true — we’re storytellers, it’s ingrained in who we are,” she said. “We just don’t have the platform or the resources or the accessibility to access theatre because it’s an expensive and secluded art form in some ways.” - Check out the full Generocity Article Here
Photo Credit: Corem Coreano
In collaboration with West Kensington Ministry, Power Street presented Las Mujeres by Erlina Ortiz. Directed by Tamanya Garza the play uncovers and centers voices of the past as a celebration of Womxn’s Herstory Month. For this production, Power Street partnered with GALAEI’s youth program to exhibit an artistic project entitled, El Altar based off Las Mujeres. Power Street also partnered with New Voices Philadelphia to screen a series of interviews highlighting Womxn of Color in positions of leadership in Philadelphia called Voces de Mujeres.
This world premiere, funded by the National Association of Latino Arts & Culture, performed to packed audience members ranging from local North Philadelphia community members and mainstream theater goers.
Power Street then devised The Hidden (dis)Abilities Project to explore the experience of life with an invisible disability. Directed by StarFire, these flexible performances took place in various spaces throughout the city and encouraged audiences to directly interact with the experience Power Street artists shared.
Next Gabriela Sanchez joined the First Person Arts creative team for the first time. After directing the popular Commonspace LIVE: Looking Class at WHYY and Queer Bodies, a collaboration with the Philadelphia Office of LGBT Affairs.
First Person Art’s then invited Gabriela to direct their first all Latin/e storytelling project called Pa’lante – presented in partnership with Power Street. This international and intergenerational piece shared the stories of distinctly different Latin/e experiences in America. Influenced by the five senses, cultural roots, and resilience, each storyteller explores traditions and legacies.
Power Street remounted our first show with support of the William Penn Foundation (WPF). MinorityLand, which was co-directed by Erlina Ortiz and Cat Ramírez, engaged even more community members than the first time around with ongoing story circles about gentrification, privilege, and other themes of the play, as well as provided free bussing from 3 separate neighborhoods in the city. Thanks to funding from WPF we were able to dream up and implement our Comunidades Conectadas Story Circle series inspired by the engaging talk backs at PST’s shows.
We also continued our Theatre Al Fresco programming of free annual outdoor performances and events held in North Philadelphia. We had comedy nights, poetry nights, dancing, local vendors, and many great memories made.
In October 2019 Gabriela Sanchez received the honor of being nominated for the Theatre Philadelphia Haas Award for an Emerging Philadelphia Theatre Artist and rising talent in the Greater Philadelphia region and Erlina Ortiz delivered a speech honoring Gabi’s great work, leadership, and character.
We finished the year out with an epic Comunidades Conectadas Holiday Potluck where we ate great food, played games, and celebrated the year with our neighbors.
Photo credit: Jen Cleary
Cast of Kiss of Addixon
Power Street started 2020 with big plans like everyone else!
We began rehearsals for a new community project directed by Gabriela Sanchez; Kiss of Adixion. This project was devised with artists, community members, and youth to address and create space for conversation and healing around the Opioid crisis in North Philadelphia. Unfortunately, Kiss of Adixion had to be canceled due to the Covid-19 pandemic though we did host a short virtual reading and story circle where themes of addiction and community were discussed.
As the pandemic became the new normal, our main adaptation was that we quickly went virtual. By entering the digital realm, we lost a direct connection to our community by sharing physical space, but we were also able to reach Philadelphians and other communities in new exciting ways.
We continued our Land and Body classes and Comunidades Conectadas Story Circles online. We developed and virtually toured ‘Our Stories/Nuestras Historias’ Children’s Theatre show to our community and Independence Charter School.
We organized the Digital Rally to Save Philly Arts and Culture a 48-hour-long event highlighting 50+ Philly artists and organizations with performances and discussions spanning from City Councilmembers, writers, comedians, poets, musicians, dancers, theater artists, and more.
With the support of the MAP Fund, we began the development of SILUETA, a new musical (working title) that brings the stories of immigrants and refugees to the front. This unique musical captures the pain of displacement, the need for choice, and the uncertainty we all face when borders are more important than family. We presented a Zoom musical (zoomsical) workshop in summer 2021.
And in the interest of our value of wellness, we safely hosted a PST Retreat with Admin-Artists where we strategically planned during the day and swam under the stars at night.
2021 began with some changes to the Power Street collective as we adapted to our continual unexpected circumstances.
We organized and hosted another Digital Rally for Philly Arts. We continued our virtual classes and story circles. We built up our social media entertainment and programming with:
Playtime - a series of online videos and digital live performances to promote contemporary playwrights and artists of the global majority.
Power Talks - interviews on Instagram with arts and culture workers as well as entrepreneurs and community leaders.
PST Spotlight - where artists share their talents from poetry to dance.
In the fall with support from Leeway Foundation’s Art and Change Grant Co-Artistic Director Erlina Ortiz created and launched Que Lo Que, a WhatsApp audio storytelling experience. This project reached communities across the United States, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and Spain.
Learn Your Shadow by Ang Bay
Videography credit: Jen Cleary
We have learned a lot in almost 10 years of running a theatre collective! PST continues to innovate, learn, experiment, and do our best to live our values. We hope to keep creating dynamic theatre and community events for years to come. If you want to be part of the collective power please consider making a recurring donation here.