'Augusta and Noble' blends cultures and classrooms

IU Northwest professors hope bilingual staged reading will engage the campus community in new ways

There is a saying, “La familia lo es todo” (Family is everything). But what is family? Does it include community? And where do each of us belong?

These questions will be explored on the Indiana University Northwest campus later this month. As part of a special collaborative project, the Departments of Modern Languages and Performing Arts will present a staged reading of Augusta and Noble, written by Chicago playwright Carlos Murillo. Another Chicago connection — Latine director and educator Ismael Lara Jr. — will be the guest director for the bilingual production.

The story revolves around 12-year-old Gabi, who has grown up in a vibrant Latino community in the West Town neighborhood of Chicago. As she starts high school across town at an elite prep school, Gabi sees a whole new world. She begins digging into her family’s history, including the truth about her parents' harrowing journey across the border to the United States, and soon struggles to discover exactly where she belongs.

Schools of Arts announces spring perfoming arts season

Bringing the story to life

The IU Northwest collaborative stage reading is the brainchild of Kat Peters, adjunct professor of Spanish, and Kathy Arfken, associate professor of design and technical theatre. After meeting on a walking tour of Gary, the two struck up a friendship and started envisioning their dream project.

They wanted to do a play; they knew that much. So, they started reading several playscripts before deciding on Augusta and Noble, recognizing that many IU Northwest students could easily relate to the main character, Gabi, as the campus has a significant Hispanic/Latine student population.

In fact, IU Northwest — recognized as a Hispanic Serving Institution — is proud to be the most diverse of all IU campuses with students of all ages, backgrounds and belief systems. Out of the campus’s more than 3,000 students, 26 percent are Hispanic/Latine and 19 percent are African American.

After finding Augusta and Noble, Arfken and Peters successfully applied for project funding from the IU Northwest Office of Diversity, Equity and Multicultural Affairs (ODEMA) Diversity Fellows Program. Fast forward a few months, many meetings and lots of behind-the-scenes work, and now their dream project has become a reality.

The play dialogue is bilingual — English and Spanish — says Peters because it is relevant to so many IU Northwest students, who speak Spanish at home and English elsewhere. Peters wanted to honor their experience with this production.

As a Spanish professor, Peters is also learning about theater in new and innovative ways. “Collaborating like this is a new experience for IU Northwest and for all of us!”

Community expertise

Another meaningful collaboration is with the guest director of Augusta and Noble, Ismael Lara, who brings experience as an educator, producer and director. As a child of Mexican immigrants who grew up in southeast Texas, his work has focused on bridging the gap between institutions and the Latine community.

The vast potential for campus-community involvement with this project excites the two professors. They envision this production as a way of bringing the campus and community together. They also hope that there will be opportunities for classes from several disciplines, such as Spanish, theatre, communication, minority studies and others to engage.

“I have been hoping to establish relationships across disciplines,” Arfken explains. “We are a small theater department, so we have to be scrappy and resourceful!”

And while she has tried a few collaborations before, this project is one Arfken hopes will make a big impact. She hopes that Augusta and Noble will be a great way to engage students and bridge the gap between in-class course topics and life outside of the classroom.

The reading of Augusta and Noble will take place at 2 p.m. on Thursday, March 30 on the IU Northwest campus in the Arts and Sciences Building (Mainstage Theater, second floor). The campus and public are invited. Tickets are free. Learn more about Augusta and Noble here.