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Collaborative Theater Hopes to Bridge Divide Between Upper Manhattan Residents

By Carla Zanoni | February 9, 2011 6:10pm

By Carla Zanoni

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

UPPER MANHATTAN — Ask anyone who lives above 155th Street and they will say the neighborhood is changing fast. High rents and pricey stores have brought new faces to what what was once a more socio-economically homogeneous stretch of Manhattan.

The People's Theatre Project recognized that change like that is often accompanied by fear, and launched a program in September 2010 called "Action Theatre/Teatro Acción" to deal with the issue. The program was designed to "foster dialogue between the white community and Latino community who live side by side in the Washington Heights and Inwood neighborhoods."

The result is "an original, interactive theatre event" titled "Let Me In! Déjame Entrar!," slated to open Feb. 10. The cast will kick off the three-night event at a cast party scheduled for Feb. 9, at Apt. 78.

The three-night run is a collaboration by the People's Theatre Project, the Theatre of the Oppressed NYC and 14 novice and professional actors from Upper Manhattan who worked together to create three bilingual plays "based on their own experiences of immigration and discrimination."

According to the organizers, the three short plays will include a section where the audience will be invited onstage to brainstorm solutions to some of the problems portrayed in the plays.

Following the performances, theatergoers and actors will participate in a panel discussion with experts in the fields of immigration law and tenants' rights.

"Teatro Acción is like therapy for me," said Maria Aristy, an Upper Manhattan resident who emigrated from the Dominican Republic, in Spanish. "It's a program that fills a vacuum in our community. With the group, despite speaking the same language, I feel like I am with family."

For Matt Higgins, a founding member of the Manhattan-based improv group Centralia and an Action Theatre participant, the experience participating in the group has opened him to a new way of looking at Upper Manhattan and its residents.

"I get the opportunity to play with people from my Washington Heights/Inwood neighborhood in a way that reveals and begins to address social conditioning's stealthy and unhealthy effects on me," he said. "As I leave rehearsal and walk on Nagle Avenue toward Broadway, I feel more connected to my neighborhood and the people in it."

Admission to the three performances of "Let Me In! Déjame Entrar!" are "pay-what-you-wish."

Thursday, Feb. 10, 7:30 p.m., YM&YWHA of Washington Heights and Inwood, 54 Nagle Ave.

Sunday, Feb. 13, 3 p.m., Manhattan Theatre Source, 177 Macdougal Street, #1.

Wednesday, Feb. 16, 7:30 p.m. Columbia University Alumni Auditorium, 650 West 168th Street.