In the Theatre School, students are bringing back to life the show “Augusta and Noble” about a young girl named Gabi starting life at a new school while her parents grapple with keeping their status as undocumented under wraps.
The show was originally written as a Theatre for Young Audiences (TYA) piece for Adventure Stage in Noble Square by Carlos Murillo, currently a playwright teacher at DePaul, in 2012. The theater focuses on shows that would be relatable to the residents of the nearby northwestern settlement houses, so Murillo took a dive into the community to find inspiration.
“A lot of the families we met and kids we met living in the neighborhood where dealing with the idea of undocumented families and the impact that had on the interpersonal relationships in the family and their sense of acceptance in the wider community and the ongoing fear of family members having to be deported or be sent back,” Murillo said. “So, listening to those stories and meeting some of the families and really wanting to create something that the community of the settlement house could really connect to is what led to the story.”
DePaul is bringing the show back and it is directed by Murillo’s wife and teacher of directing at the Theatre school, Lisa Portes. Portes says the Reskin Theatre will give her the freedom to do all the things that might be possible in a Broadway show. Portes, along with the cast and crew, will be breathing life not just into the world of the family, but the dreams the Gabi has as she begins to discover more of her parents’ past.
“There’s two different performance styles. There’s the dream world and the real world of Chicago,” Portes said. “That’s the challenge as the director. It’s figuring out how those worlds are separate and yet not so separate that they are two different plays. And then as the play continues those worlds begin to merge.”
The play is coming back while the topic of undocumented immigrants is on peoples’ lips often. In fact, to his dismay, Murrilo believes the play may be more poignant now than when the play was originally written.
“I tell people about the play that I kind of wish it was obsolete after it was originally done and sadly we are in a situation where something that is very much in the consciousness of the culture is the idea of how do we navigate the question of immigration in this country,” Murrilo said. “So, I feel very strongly that it is weirdly even more relevant now than it was four years ago when it premiered. And I feel that rather than a lot of the debate being about number and law…that it [the play]really humanizes the issue…and I think that that is a going to be a great way to start a conversation about these issues.”
The show broaches heavy topics, but still is part of the Chicago Playworks series for families and young audiences. It is one of three such performances that the Theatre School produces that draw two main audiences: CPS students on Tuesday and Thursday mornings and families on Saturdays. Portes says it will be engaging for even younger students regardless on if they get the relation to current news.
“There are many kids in Chicago whose parents are undocumented and so they will come with varying levels of awareness. If they’re eight, maybe not so much, if they’re 10 or 12 maybe more,” Portes said. “But I think the experience of maybe not understanding why your parents are doing this the way they are doing it is an experience that kids can grab on to.
“But beyond all that, this is going to be a beautiful, fun production…it’s a magical, theatrical version of what, if you saw it in a documentary, would be a much heavier story.”
The show is in rehearsals right now and will run on the Merle Reskin Theatre from Oct. 5 through Nov. 11. Shows are on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 10 a.m. and Saturdays at 2 p.m. with a Friday performance on Nov. 3 at 10 a.m. Tickets are on sale at the DePaul Theatre School website for $10.