Brooklyn Tavern Theater Presents Musical, YBOR CITY
"Ybor City," an original musical with book by Anita Gonzalez and music and lyrics by Dan Furman, is a story of romance and labor organizing in 1918 Tampa, where the Afro-Cuban workforce joined with Italian and Spanish immigrants to unionize the new American cigar industry. The tuner will be presented as a work-in-progress February 5 to 26 by Brooklyn Tavern Theater, which is is pioneering a new theatrical genre: no-frills, immersive musicals presented as Equity showcases in hospitable taprooms. Performances will be Feb. 5, 12, 18, 19 and 26 at Rustik Tavern, 471 Dekalb Ave., Bed-Stuy and February 10 and 25 at The Players, 16 Gramercy Park South, Manhattan. Vernice Miller directs a cast of eleven. Co-producer is Art Boundaries Unlimited, Inc.
The musical is set in Ybor City, a neighborhood of Tampa, FL that was founded in the 1880s by Vincente Martinez Ybor and other cigar manufacturers. It was unique in the American South as a successful town almost entirely populated and owned by immigrants. The Fuente Cigar Factory, scene of the strike in the play, was established there in 1912 and still exists today. From the late 19th century until World War I, unrest from the Cuban War for Independence caused many cigar makers to move their operations to South Florida. To attract employees, Ybor built hundreds of small houses for an influx of skilled Cuban and Spanish cigar makers, who were soon joined by unskilled immigrants from Sicily. They, along with unskilled Afro-Cubans, worked in support jobs like cleaning and hauling and eventually became cigar workers too.
In the history of American race relations, the cigar worker community of Ybor City stands out as a little Utopian cell. Most African Americans who lived in Tampa, Florida between 1900 and 1920 were agricultural workers or domestic servants. The Afro-Cubans of the area were able to somewhat circumvent Jim Crow laws by confining their activities and associations to the cigar worker community.
This musical is set in 1918, a time of burgeoning of unionization within tabaquero or cigar roller communities. In the play an Afro-Cuban immigrant named Pedro tries to reconcile his status as a Black man within his tightly knit, mixed-race, tobacco worker enclave. Two women, Irina and Teresa, help the man and the community to adapt to the societal changes that challenge the once-unified Cuban community.
The industrial scene in the cigar factories was rather unique. Women were an important part of the workforce, since cigar rolling depends entirely on manual dexterity. Readers were perched above the factory floor and paid by the workers themselves to break up the monotony of the work. They read newspapers and novels; reflecting the political climate, much of what was read was political and with radical views. Interestingly, they were tolerated by management, who accepted them as an accommodation to the labor scene.
In the play, a young man named Rafael comes to town to read newspapers for the factory workers and falls in love with Teresa, the sister of a union organizer named Catalino. Romance blossoms and tensions rise. When Catalino stands up for worker rights, violence erupts. The community struggles to unite against an abusive factory owner and collectively form a multi-racial union.
The play is partly based upon the life story of the Afro-Cuban grandfather of book writer Anita Gonzalez (http://www.anitagonzalez.com). His name was Pedro Paulo Gonzalez and he was an early Cuban immigrant to Tampa. Born in Santiago, Cuba he came to Tampa to work and first found employment making boxes to ship cigars. He died in the Yellow Fever epidemic in 1918. His history is filtered through the stories of Anita's grandmother, an immigrant from the Bahamas who had married a cigar roller to be upwardly mobile.
The romances of the play were Anita Gonzalez's plot creation. The play also contains realistic interactions between the strikers and the company that were inspired by first-hand experiences of composer Dan Furman, who has worked as a union member in manufacturing"day jobs" and lived through strikes as an insider.
A book, "More Than Black: Afro-Cubans in Tampa (New World Diasporas)" by Susan D. Greenbaum, helped bring perspective to the authors in their plot development. It is an ethnography that follows Cuban exiles from Jose Marti's revolution to the Jim Crow South in Tampa, Florida, as they shaped an Afro-Cuban-American identity over five generations. It traces the unfolding consequences that began when the black and white solidarity of emigrating Cubans came up against Jim Crow racism and progressed through a painful renegotiation of allegiances and identities.
To some extent, the characters of Pedro and Irina are based on Anita Gonzalez's grandparents. Rafael and Teresa are created characters. Luisa, a friend of Teresa, is based on Luisa Capetillo (1879-1922), a famed labor leader and Women's Rights activist of Puerto Rico who actually worked as a reader in Tampa in 1917.
The score by Dan Furman (www.danfurman.com)/ is melodic and tuneful, touching on many different Latin styles including Son Cubano and Rumba, with many more modern influences.
Anita Gonzalez met Dan Furman through Dramatists Guild events. She has been developing the project for about ten years now through grants (Rockefeller-Bellagio Italy) and readings (Dixon Place, Williams College, The University of Mainz-Germany, Tallahassee Little Theater). The musical had a staged reading at the Lee Strasberg Institute in Manhattan in the summer of 2015, a studio production at the University of Michigan in early 2017 and was workshopped in Manhattan in early 2018.
This production is co-produced by Brooklyn Tavern Theater (www.brooklyntaverntheater.com) and Art Boundaries Unlimited, Inc. (https://artboundariesunlimited.com) with additional support from the University of Michigan and in-kind support from ALATetc (http://alatetc.blogspot.com/).
The actors are Miguel Anaya, Pilin Anice, Lauren Baez, Fernando Bruno, Giancarlo Herrera, Cedric Leiba, Jr., Daniel Lugo, Luis E. Mora, Belén Moyano, JL Rey and Yosvany Reyes.
Movement Director is Stephanie Batten Bland. Music Director is Dan Furman. Production Stage Manager is Raymond Johannes Kraft. Lighting Designer is E.K. Rivera. Costume Designer is Keyon Woods.
The show's website is: https://www.yborcitythemusical.com. The running time is two hours.
Performances at Rustik Tavern, 471 Dekalb Ave, Brooklyn are 7:00 PM February 5, 12, 18, 19 and 26. There is free admission for standing room. $20 premium seating is available at: https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/4494275. For more info call: 718-213-8885.
Performances at The Players, 16 Gramercy Park South, are 7:00 PM February 10 and 25. $20 general admission is available at https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/4497775. For more info call: 718-213-8885.