The creation of the original musical play Betsy! by Pregones Theater and Roadside Theater builds on two decades of exchange and collaboration between Kentucky and The Bronx, with shared credits in the creation and national tour of Promise of a Love Song, later published in Ferdinand Lewis’ Ensemble Works: An Anthology, published by Theatre Communications Books.
Coming 10 years after Promise, and now the outcome of a tried and true partnership, Betsy! tells the story of a Bronx jazz singer forced to confront her twin Spanish Caribbean and Scotch-Irish roots. Her dilemma will stir up the ghosts of six generations of American women, and musical currents spanning four continents. Soulful and funny, Betsy! grapples with the many-layered narratives of identity in the age of Internet genealogy searches and home DNA-testing kits.
First dreamed up by Roadside artists Ron Short and Dudley Cocke, together with legendary Nashville pianist Beegie Adair, Betsy! was then gradually developed and transformed with Pregones artists Rosalba Rolón and Desmar Guevara. The work exemplifies a collaborative creative practice that grows over time, engages an audience during the formative process, involves seasoned and developing artists of a high caliber, and that results in a musical theater experience that is out of the ordinary. Upon realization as a full-fledged Puerto Rican-Appalachian musical, Betsy! will set a new benchmark for Pregones and Roadside.
The partnership between Pregones and Roadside begins with a shared commitment to making a truly popular musical theater — one rich in aesthetic and thematic substance, experimental in its approach to narrative structure, and always honest in its portrayal of everyday people. The process involves validating and building connections between two distinct ensemble methodologies, and between two vast geographies and cultures, the Puerto Rican and the Appalachian. The process —like the work’s eventual form and content— will also honor certain differences while pushing for a new theatrical synthesis, both stylized and greatly entertaining.
Of the outcomes, Dudley Cocke likes to say that a new intercultural play is like the span of a bridge safely anchored on either side by different and independent structures, each one a formidable amalgam of ensemble craft, trust, and shared experience.
Roadside and Pregones also share an ability to reach poor, working, and middle class audiences of diverse background. In 20-plus years of trial and error, each ensemble has developed innovative ways to put this audience at the center of its creation, both at home and on the road. Roadside’s story circles consistently provide audiences and communities with a forum to tell their personal stories and respond to works-in-progress. Pregones has established a similar mechanism through active research and by opening up developmental readings and workshops to a live audience. Equal care goes into subsequent steps in new work development including play script, music, design, and production — each realized with an eye for lean, tour-friendly solutions without ever compromising the work’s proper scale and visual impact.
The alchemy of Puerto Rican and Appalachian artists working together takes hold in the criss-cross of these unique but complementary play development practices. If successful, audiences will experience Betsy! as something both new and resonant with Puerto Rican and Appalachian traditions.