Update: APTP alumna Stephanie Castrejon and her cast-mates from College of Wooster have been selected by the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival (KCACTF) to perform “Women of Ciudad Juarez” at the annual Region III competition this January.
Since 2012, Stephanie has been working with College of Wooster theater professor Jimmy Noriega and his theater troupe, Teatro Travieso, to stage the English-language premiere of Cristina Michaus’ play Mujeres de Ciudad Juárez (Women of Ciudad Juárez) for a national tour of college campuses. Mujeres spotlights the stories of the hundreds of women who have lost their lives in the Mexican border city of Juárez over the last 25 years and continue to experience deadly violence with little to no government intervention or protection. In Noriega’s production of Mujeres, each student performer shares the story of a woman who has faced feminicide, torture, mutilation, human trafficking, and prostitution in the act of trying to simply live daily life and access opportunity.
Now Stephanie and three Wooster classmates (Marisa Adame, Janna Haywood, and Summit J. Starr) have completed their first tour of the show—throughout the U.S. and even into Canada—performing at Ithaca College, Cornell University, Arizona State University, University of New Hampshire, Davidson College, Ohio Wesleyan University, Yale University, Dartmouth College, McGill College, and more.
For Stephanie, the crisis in Juárez has sparked her activism while igniting her passion to use art to make the world a better place. “I feel like the situation in Juárez is something that needs to be taken seriously, and something needs to be done. All these women have done nothing wrong but seek work and do what they can for their families and for themselves.…Bringing the issue of violence against women to the stage and to the public, that’s where social justice really kicks in. We wanted to keep bringing up these stories, these women, these people no longer with us and do something to change the future for the women in Juárez and around the world,” says Stephanie.
After each performance, Stephanie and the rest of the Mujeres cast read a list of 700 victims of violence in Juárez. They then ask audience members to sign a petition to demand political and legislative change to protect the girls and women in Juárez, Mexico. The cast’s goal is to get at least 10,000 signatories insisting the presidents of the US and Mexico—along with the United Nations—take actions such as creating women’s shelters and community health centers as well as focusing on combating family violence (to join in the movement, visit this link).
“My favorite quote is from Augusto Boal’s book, Theatre of the Oppressed: ‘Theater is a weapon.’ I really believe in theater as a means of waking up the audience and showing what really happens related to issues that matter today. Because of APTP, I felt ready to put in the long hours of work and to make myself emotionally vulnerable both on and off stage, doing what was needed for Mujeres and to take in the ethnographic work…even though we can’t speak to these women directly,” shares Stephanie.
Once I’m on stage I feel like I can take on the world. I no longer fear who’s out there or what’s out there. I feel like I am here for a reason.
Although Stephanie was not able to interview women in Juárez, she was eventually able to meet playwright Cristina Michaus. Michaus was thrilled to see this re-staging of her work in person at the College of Wooster. Stephanie recounts that Michaus was in tears after the performance and shared with the cast how much the play (both her original production and the new English interpretation) has changed her own life and how it has strengthened and built her family, her career, and herself. For Stephanie, these moments with Michaus were life-changing: “Cristina Michaus is an amazing woman who has done so much, who has been through so much and whose life was even threatened while doing the performance herself. She has a beautiful soul and heart and has been a true inspiration and model for me as a strong, resilient, fearless woman making a difference in people’s lives.”
Stephanie is taking the passion and motivation from Mujeres to fuel her academics and plans for her future, double majoring in Anthropology and Theater. She is also working with Noriega and the rest of Teatro Travieso to continue touring Mujeres de Ciudad Juárez next year. Beyond the stage, Stephanie is strengthening the movement of female empowerment on the Wooster campus and working on the issue of domestic violence within her own community. She plans on collaborating with the local women’s support center and building a strong network of engaged Wooster students.
For Stephanie, this path of activism, art, and education began at APTP. Not only did staff at APTP help her get to Wooster through the college counseling program, but APTP also provided her with the tools to become the woman that she is today: “Because of APTP and because of doing plays—especially Home/Land—I was able to grow out of my shyness and express ideas that I have. I was amazed at the things I could do and to hear the positive feedback from APTP company members and directors. I discovered that I enjoy looking at the spotlight. Once I’m on stage I feel like I can take on the world. I no longer fear who’s out there or what’s out there. I feel like I am here for a reason. It’s been pretty awesome to see how those changes have come from the first time I was on stage to now when I think to myself: the stage is my world. I feel very powerful.”
This summer, Stephanie is working as a cabin counselor at Flying Horse Farms, a summer camp for children with serious illnesses. There she will help lead activities, outings, and meals to help these children have fun and be kids despite the day-to-day challenges they face.
*Mujeres Production photos courtesy of Sidney Martin (https://www.flickr.com/photos/uniquely_natural/)