Jun. 7, 2017 1:21 pm

How Power Street Theatre Company is taking on representation in the arts

The women-of-color-run company wants to expand its efforts of reaching out to other communities in Philly to provide accessible theater and arts.

Out of Orbit.

(Courtesy photo)

Power Street Theatre Company (PSTC) was “founded out of rage.”

Gabriela Sanchez started the theatre company — the only one in Philly run by all women of color, she said — in 2012 while studying theater and communications at Temple University. It was there where she felt the frustration of knowing that it wasn’t for a lack of she skill she wasn’t getting more opportunities on stage. Rather, it was because her “stories” as a Latinx woman weren’t being represented — and as we’ve heard before, “representation is everything.”

Sanchez realized if she was feeling this way, there must be others around her who also felt the same way, and soon enough, she met and collaborated with Erlina Ortiz, a classmate at Temple, to start PSTC, where Ortiz is now the resident playwright.

Five years later, the theatre company is going strong with its main focus of providing accessible theater and arts to the North Philly communities, through which Sanchez said they’ve engaged more than 3,000 audience members through seven productions and six contract performances.

That focus on serving the North Philly area, where Sanchez has deep familial ties to having been born and raised in Philly, is an “intentional” effort in promoting diversity and inclusion, which are values Sanchez said are still just buzzwords in the theater industry.

“I’m very intentional about the work that I produce, the relationships that I build and knowing that it takes time,” Sanchez said. “My work is very rooted in the communities that I care about, that I serve, that I come from.”

"My work is very rooted in the communities that I care about, that I serve, that I come from."
Gabriela Sanchez

PSTC’s most recent production series, Theatre en Las Parcelas, is currently underway through a partnership with the Norris Square Neighborhood Project, where she is the education director for the organization that aims to make social change by engaging youth in education, leadership and the arts. The second show of the series, “Out of Orbit,” will feature Sanchez and two other women tackling the topic of privilege, among other things, “through the lens of space and the universe.”

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The free performance will take on June 10 at the Las Parcelas garden, where the last event, an open mic garden party, will also take place on Aug. 12.

Working in tandem with community and social change organizations is nothing new for PSTC, like when it partnered with Women Organized Against Rape and Warrior Writers to produce “She Wore Those Shoes,” a production that looked at sexual assault in the military.

The art-for-social-change effort is also something Sanchez herself has personally been involved in with since she was 15 years old, when her first full-time job for six years was being part of the City of Philadelphia’s Conflict Resolution Theatre, part of a series of Strength-Based (Trauma-Informed) Leadership Programs hosted throughout the city.

“I saw a need in my city, I saw a need in communities that were disenfranchised and young people that didn’t have access to the arts,” she said.

"I saw a need in communities that were disenfranchised and young people that didn’t have access to the arts."
Gabriela Sanchez

Location and pricing of tickets are both accessibility factors PSTC has given attention to, which Sanchez says she’s proud of. All youth under the age of 18 get free access to any shows, college students and senior citizens get half-off their tickets and community residents just pay $5. All in all, inclusivity is key to “keep theatre alive,” Sanchez said.

“There’s this stigma that people of color don’t like theater, but the reality is that that’s not true — we’re storytellers, it’s ingrained in who we are,” she said. “We just don’t have the platform or the resources or the accessibility to access theatre because it’s an expensive and secluded art form in some ways.”

Even as a student, Sanchez felt that her studies would often not teach her how to sustain the art, thus prompting her to learn how to run a theatre company through experience, whether it be writing grants or fostering those relationships with community organizations. She hopes to grow PSTC into a full-time company within the next two years, and in that effort, teach and grow other women and people of color in the theater world.

Sanchez credits the success of PSTC so far to her team — Ortiz; Asaki Kuruma, Diana Rodriguez and Lexi White — who have often volunteered much of the administrative labor, and it’s through listening to other communities PSTC may have not yet reached out to where they hope to find more stories.

“Creating art and social change aren’t on one person,” Sanchez said. “I believe it’s about dialogue, about reflection, about asking questions and having conversations. … In order for all of us to get on the same page, we have to start listening to each other’s stories.”


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