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MARIA Co-Author Mildred Ruiz Sapp Releases Statement On New Musical at Long Wharf Theatre

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Earlier this week, Long Wharf Theatre released a statement negating reports that the new musical is a sequel to the classic musical, West Side Story

MARIA Co-Author Mildred Ruiz Sapp Releases Statement On New Musical at Long Wharf Theatre

Earlier this week, Long Wharf Theatre released a statement negating reports that a new musical in development is a sequel to the classic musical, West Side Story.

Today, one of the show's co-authors, Mildred Ruiz- Sapp, a founding member of UNIVERSES Theater Co. released a statement of her own further explaining the development of the piece since its announcement as part of Long Wharf's slate of upcoming shows in 2020.

She writes:

"Happy Holidays everyone.

Surely many of you have been waiting for our response to the recent uproar about a new musical (currently titled MARIA) which is still in its very nascent stage of development. An entertainment lawyer I have never spoken to has taken it upon himself to "break the news" through @Forbes, using samplings of online information that span a year. Had he spoken to us, he might have learned a bit more of where we currently stand with the project. Had he been an honest supporter of art makers, he would never have put out such an opportunistic piece. Additionally disturbing, he has done so on the coattails of the release of West Side Story now playing in movie theaters and the death of American Theatre's beloved Stephen Sondheim. Who does that?

As for this project, we retain our rights as playwrights to do our research and bring every part of the collective dialogue to our desk. That will include many resources, conversations, and the positive/negative experiences of the Puerto Rican community. Anything that has shaped our experiences in relation to the U.S. will be explored. All germinating information will bring us to a healthier understanding of what our play might be about. Part of this research involves WSS and its legacy. Because of its place in our history, the imagined aftermath to WSS became a hook, a way to jumpstart and distill the larger fabric of our interests. As in any artistic process, the germinating idea will continue to evolve and will do so for years to come. Let this be an example to all playwrights, artistic institutions, and funders, that releasing too much information during nascent artistic processes has the potential to paralyze and polarize new works.

After we voiced our initial ideas last year, UNIVERSES did, in fact, speak with West Side Story Estate representatives, at their request. It was a fantastic conversation. And while West Side Story's creators may own their masterpiece, the Puerto Rican people must and will own their own stories.

So where are we at now? We all experience a traumatic moment at the end of WSS. That is our shared experience watching it. It is what Steve and I have lived and spoken of for years. What happened to both our own families when they walked away from murder scenes? They rose. And while it is too early to know if this is a direction we will even want to take, it also sits among our research. It is our TRUE lived experience, and when you see hints of it play out on stage or on the big screen it is triggering. So yes, what happens to someone who is "starry-eyed", who then walks into a world that does not want them in it? What is it like when you realize that you have lost so much for nothing? What is it to be part of a world that disowns you from your truest self? This is what we find ourselves trying to explore. Who knows where it will lead.

We have never asked permission for telling the stories we tell and in the way we tell them. We have been granted great gifts of confidence by our communities in the past, that have allowed us to shape and tell these stories, and we are grateful for you all.

But for all of you who are standing in outrage... please take a seat... there is nothing here to be outraged about now... when there is, we'll be the first to let you know.

Gracias a todos,
yours in truth,
Mildred Ruiz Sapp"

Both companies released a joint statement on the issue writing:

When the play was first announced in February 2020, a press release described the work as, "In celebration of the 25th anniversary of the ensemble, UNIVERSES receives a commission to develop a new musical, MARIA, a response to cultural appropriation in West Side Story, focused on what happens to Maria after the conclusion of the classic musical."

In February 2020, co-author Steven Sapp said in a statement, "We are thrilled to create this new work for Long Wharf Theatre, and we are excited that the stories that shape our Nation and drive our work are valued and honored by an invitation like this. We are currently celebrating 25 years of UNIVERSES and have long wanted to bring this story to life. With this commission, we introduce MARIA like you've never known her before. Our jump off point begins where the imagined Puerto Rican lives that inspired West Side Story left off. Interweaving true Puerto Rican narratives, we discover the journey of a starry eyed Puerto Rican girl through her life's journey, witnessing what she has experienced and the world she has inspired along the way."

No further details have been announced at this time on when the musical will premiere.


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