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Preview of 'Barrio Stories' showcases oral histories of Downtown

It's been nearly five decades since hundreds of homes and businesses were bulldozed in the historic heart of the Old Pueblo to make way for the Tucson Convention Center. But for many, those long-flattened buildings and their former occupants still have stories to tell. The "Barrio Stories Project," a series of performances by Borderlands Theater, will give voice to those tales.

There will be a sneak preview of the project, which will see a full production in early March, on Wednesday night at Playground.

The 6-7:30 p.m. event, part of the Show and Tell series hosted by the Confluencenter for Creative Inquiry, will include an interactive presentation of the Barrio Stories Project and a peak into the creative process and progress toward the finished production.

"Barrio Stories" will tell the story of the demolition of a historic district of Downtown Tucson in the '60s and '70s through accounts of people who experienced it, bringing oral history to life through performances.

At the preview, "we are going to talk about the process of collaboration, maybe a few readings from the play to share with people, we are going to dedicate the play to somebody very special," said Lydia Otero, a UA Mexican American studies professor whose book “La Calle: Spatial Conflicts and Urban Renewal in a Southwest City” was the inspiration behind the Barrio Stories Project. 

The Confluencenter, a University of Arizona group that promotes interdisciplinary collaboration, has helped fund the project, and through the UA, the Confluencenter, Borderlands Theater and the Tucson Convention Center, the Barrio Stories Project was born.

The full production, set for early March, will include a series of short plays performed outside on the TCC grounds where actors will portray some of the people who were pushed out of the area during the demolition of the barrio. The vignettes will be viewed through a walking tour. This week’s preview will give audience members a little more insight into what is to come.

 The "Barrio Stories" performances will be held March 3-6, and the show is still in the works. Actors are just beginning weeks of rehearsal and there are many changes yet to be made, organizers said.

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“This is an artistic process in progress” said Elaine Romero, the show's head playwright and a theatre professor at the UA. According to Romero, the group’s recent first rehearsal was a success and creative juices are flowing. 

“Because I knew it was going to be outside, I wanted it to be very theatrical. Marc Pinate suggested that we use giant puppets and I thought, 'awesome, I love that idea'” said Romero. Pinate is the creative director of Borderlands.

“The Show and Tell will be about where we are in our process. It's very different from having a completed project and having a slideshow,” said Romero.

Javier Durán, the director of the Confluencenter, has personal ties to the story. The house where his father was born is no longer there, and the neighborhood he knew so well is now unrecognizable.

“The whole idea of retelling this story is very important in a time in which many people have no idea that there was a Latino/Hispano high presence downtown,” said Durán. “Part of the relevance is that the project is trying to create systemic and a historical recovery of the past that many people might not be aware of.”

The installations of the Barrio Stories Project promise entertainment along with education about the events that occurred in the '60s and '70s, said Durán. The preview will highlight some of the high points of the coming show.

“It’s not a regular lecture,” said Durán, “but more of an interactive presentation in an informal setting where the audience can have a conversation with the presenters.”

Organizers are hoping to spread the excitement that they feel for the project to the audience and to the community.

"If people miss the performances, that's it. This is a one-time happening," said Otero. "I don't know how to express enough that people have got to attend."

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Marc Pinate

'Barrio Stories' features Borderlands Theater actors bringing to life the oral histories of the residents whose homes were lost to the construction of the convention center.

If you go

  • What: Preview of Borderlands Theater's "Barrio Stories Project," a Show and Tell by the UA Confluencenter for Creative Inquiry
  • Where: Playground, 278 E. Congress St.
  • When: Wednesday, 6-7:30 p.m.