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A ‘Long Road’ to completion

Diego Andres Teran rehearses for his role in the the play "The Long Road Today" at the South Coast Repertory on Wednesday.
(SCOTT SMELTZER, Daily Pilot)

Once Guillermo Marron-Leal’s mother spotted a flier about a play reflecting the strengths of and opportunities in Santa Ana, she urged her son to audition for a role.

So Guillermo, a 9-year-old with no acting experience, attended the play’s casting call with his mother.

“I was shy,” he said of his initial reaction to auditioning. But after meeting more than 120 people who sought roles, Guillermo quickly made friends and became one of the 63 making the cast.

“I’m excited,” he said of the upcoming premiere.

He and two other boys, Diego Andres Teran and Samuel Matthews, share the role of the main character, Andres, in the bilingual community-inspired play “The Long Road Today,” a two-year project linked to South Coast Repertory’s partnership with the Latino community in Santa Ana.

The play is about the will to survive despite challenges. The heart of “The Long Road Today” is a tragedy leading the community to find hope.

With no park in his neighborhood, Andres, a deaf boy, plays ball in the street. One day, he chases a stray ball and is hit by a car. Two families and a community must confront the aftermath and take action to make a change.

To bring the stories and memories of residents sharing a neighborhood to the theater, nearly 1,000 residents of Santa Ana shared their stories, hopes and dreams with South Coast Repertory playwright-in-residence Jose Cruz Gonzalez and the team of teaching artists.

Gonzalez has written for “The Paz Show,” the Emmy-nominated television series produced by Discovery Kids, and teaches theater at Cal State University at Los Angeles. He wrote the play once South Coast Repertory launched a play-development project in Santa Ana called Dialogue/Dialogos, a project to gather and tell the experiences of the Santa Ana Latino community.

South Coast Repertory and its community partner, Latino Health Access, hosted a series of workshops and story circles in Santa Ana, and turned the stories they learned into a theatrical work that was made possible through a grant by the James Irvine Foundation.

From February to July of 2013, teaching artists and volunteers went door to door with fliers inviting residents to festivals and meetings at the Delhi Center to share their stories.

The team would break the people into groups and ask each person to draw a map of Santa Ana and label a place of love, hope, fear and mystery as well as a border that hasn’t been crossed.

Some were literal, others symbolic.

A woman said a border she hadn’t crossed yet was learning to speak English.

“What we hope people take away is that Santa Ana is a very unique city and that we share with them their story,” Gonzalez said.

After gathering the residents’ memories, Gonzalez received feedback from the crew and directors on what step to take next — he’d hold a round of readings of the script with the community.

To stay involved in the project, Guillermo and his mother distributed fliers around Santa Ana advertising the readings.

A few times each week, the cast of 63 meets at South Coast Repertory’s rehearsal rooms and practices dance movements and lines.

The three leading boys, who all are in elementary school in Santa Ana, portray Andres in four separate scenes. Audience members draw cards that tell them which character will accompany them through the story, then follow the character to four different locations within Santa Ana’s Civic Center, where they watch different sides of the story. All four audience groups then come together for the final part of the play.

“It’s fun,” Guillermo said. “I get to speak in sign language.”

Asked to sign a sentence he learned for his role, the 9-year-old pointed to his chest, then brushed his fingertips along the palm of his hand twice and pointed to the person he was speaking to.

“That means ‘I forgive you,’” he said.

Samuel has been taking classes at SCR and the Orange County School of the Arts. Diego was familiar with dance from his involvement with the Wooden Floor, a foundation based in Santa Ana.

“I was minding my own business and my dad asked if I wanted to be in a play,” Diego said. “I like it a lot. My favorite part is the prologue, because you get to see all the spirits that guide you through the story.”

To prepare for the play’s premiere, the cast assembled Wednesday night in a dance rehearsal room and followed movements choreographed by Sylvia Blush.

“Once you come into the center, I want you to do some sort of dance,” she said.

“Can I spin on my head?” Diego asked.

“No!” his cast mates said with a laugh.

A dancer turned the volume up on the CD player.

Sounds of rhythm and instrumentation prompted the actors to shuffle their feet and listen to Blush’s cues.

“Move your hips.”

“Where are your arms?”

“Don’t look down.”

“Let’s do this again,” Blush said when she paused the song. Guillermo and Diego returned to their positions. The music started again. With shoulders back and deep breaths, they practiced to the song’s lyrics.

“When I say ‘Santa,’ you say ‘Ana’, clap, clap, clap ...”

If You Go

What: “The Long Road Today”

When: 8 p.m. Sept. 18 through Sept. 21 and Sept. 26 through Sept. 28

Where: 20 Civic Center Plaza, Santa Ana

Cost: Free

Information: (714) 708-5843, scr.org/dialogos


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