By WINNIE HU
The Hostos Repertory Company does not have a manager and uses a classroom as a rehearsal space. Many of its 11 members have never spent much time out of the Bronx. Two have never been on a plane.
The company is run on a shoestring budget, supported one play at a time by a community college that does not even have a theater department.
But on Thursday, the student repertory company at Hostos Community College will travel across the Atlantic to join thousands of seasoned and heralded performers in Edinburgh, Scotland, for one of the largest and most prestigious arts festivals in the world. Months of grueling rehearsals, fund-raising and anticipation will culminate on Tuesday with a performance of “Rough Magic,” a modern take on Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” that is set partly in New York City.
“I wonder if we’ll stick out,” said Jenesis Scott, 29, a student who lives in a housing project in the Bronx and until recently worked as a teaching assistant at a charter school. “At first I was intimidated, but now I’m more positive. Different is good; we’ll be more memorable.”
They will be among more than 24,000 artists from 41 countries who will perform during the three-week Edinburgh Festival Fringe, which for the true aficionado is considered a must on the theater calendar. The Hostos students are to perform along with three other college groups, through a program that received applications from more than 200 schools in the United States and Canada.
The Hostos Repertory Company grew out of an effort by the college to give its 7,000 students — many of whom are poor and the first in their families to pursue higher education — a taste of literature, art and the finer things in life. It was originally founded in 1983 as a professional group performing Spanish-language dramas, and was revived in 2005 with students, said Angel Morales, a humanities professor who doubles as the artistic director.
The students started with a bilingual translation of “Romeo and Juliet” by Pablo Neruda that filled the college’s 362-seat theater. Soon there was one play every semester, many with Latino themes and authors, including “A Bicycle Country” by Nilo Cruz, and “Chain Reaction,” a work about the Puerto Rican activist Antonia Pantoja written by Tere Martinez, an adjunct professor at Hostos.
The college, an often overlooked branch of the City University of New York that is known for its training programs in nursing, dental hygiene and radiologic technology, took the unusual step of bringing the plays into the classroom. Professors in English, the humanities, education, sociology and the sciences collaborated to teach ideas and lessons from the various works, and post online study guides.
George Alvarenga, 23, the middle of three children of a home attendant and a building handyman, said that until he landed at Hostos, he had only seen theater performed in his high school, “so I’m thinking what’s so great about seeing it live.”
But after taking a class with Professor Morales last year, he waited in line for four hours for free tickets to Shakespeare in the Park. He has been back twice, so far. “Every show is a different show, anything can happen,” he said. “I like that because it’s a unique morsel that you get to savor. What you see today is not what you’ll get tomorrow.”
In 2011, Professor Morales was invited to visit the Edinburgh festival by the International Collegiate Theater Festival, an organization that presents college productions as part of the Festival Fringe. Hostos students had started to attract notice outside the Bronx, and performed that year alongside groups from Yale and Boston Universities in a regional college theater festival.
“We bring ethnic diversity,” Professor Morales, 42, said. “We bring energy. We bring the thirst of young students from the South Bronx to showcase their talents at a time when opportunities for them are scarce.”
Hostos raised $40,000 through donations from alumni and others to cover airfare, housing, festival fees and most meals. The students will be accompanied by Professor Morales and the college president, Felix V. Matos Rodriguez.
Professor Morales said he chose “Rough Magic,” by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, in part because it could be produced on a tight budget. The entire set consists of a table and a couple of chairs, and the largest prop is Prospero’s nearly seven-foot-tall walking stick — all of which can be borrowed or rented abroad. Everything else will be carried on the plane with them.
About 30 students auditioned for the play, some, like Mr. Alvarenga, drawn by the bonus of a free trip to Scotland. Eleven were selected by a faculty committee, based on acting ability as well as grades and attitude. The cast members range in age from 19 to 34, and include a young mother, a lifeguard, a former Puerto Rican television hostess and a veteran of a tour of “Cabaret” who is studying to become a dental hygienist.
The students prepared for the play by reading “The Tempest.” Then they dove into a rigorous rehearsal schedule — three hours a day, four days a week since February — in between classes, jobs and family obligations. Arriving even a few minutes late earned a scowl from Professor Morales, students said. No one dared skip a rehearsal.
“This is theater for life,” the professor said. “I tell them what you learn here can be applied to any career: discipline, punctuality, literacy, oral skills, compassion.”
As with any production, there were a few hiccups. One student dropped out after breaking her arm. Another cast member, a woman from the Dominican Republic with a green card, had to be replaced by an understudy at the last minute after her application to travel to Scotland was denied.
Cast members struggled with the opening scene — a tableau that lasts up to 15 minutes and caused their arms and legs to go numb.
Mr. Alvarenga said he often followed rehearsals with hours at the gym lifting weights. “I’m shirtless half the time so I didn’t want to be flabby,” he said.
Others found ways to get into character. One man who plays a drag queen said he went back and forth from his Harlem neighborhood to Hostos in full makeup to get comfortable with it on, while another man said he rehearsed playing a lifeguard at his real lifeguarding job.
Last week, the students assembled for a dress rehearsal in a classroom where a countdown — “days to Scotland” — was scrawled on the chalkboard.
“We don’t have professional lighting but you will use your imagination,” Professor Morales told an audience of classmates, professors and friends. Then he called out, “Actors, places.”
The students were ready. For the next 90 minutes, their world receded into a vivid fantasy spun by Prospero’s spells. No cues were missed, no lines forgotten. Afterward, there was a standing ovation.
Several students said they could not wait to put the Bronx on a world stage. “It’s like you’ve got a cool dog and you want to show it off,” said Abe Rasheed, 22, the lifeguard. “We have a really cool dog.”
The experience has already opened doors.
Ms. Scott, who is looking for work, said she had learned skills that could lead to a job as a professional stage manager. “I didn’t do so well in high school,” she said. “I didn’t know what I could do with my life.”
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