“Tomás and the Library Lady,” – A (Streaming) Wirtz Center for the Performing Arts Production

Ensemble: Tomás (Daniel Calderon ’24), the Library Lady (Ruby Gibson’22), PapáGrande (Daniel Mares ‘23)and Tomás' mother, Josefa (Alondra Rios ’24) appear in Imagine U’s “Tomás and the Library Lady.” Presented by the Wirtz Center for the Performing Arts at Northwestern University, the COVID-safe production is being filmed for weekend streaming between March 12 and 28. Photo by Justin Barbin
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The Wirtz Center for the Performing Arts at Northwestern University presents Imagine U’s “Tomás and the Library Lady,” which is filmed and available for weekend streaming between March 12 and 28.

Tomás and Josefa: Tomás (Daniel Calderon ’24) and Tomás’ mother, Josefa (Alondra Rios ’24) in Imagine U’s “Tomás and the Library Lady.” Presented by the Wirtz Center for the Performing Arts at Northwestern University, the COVID-safe production is being filmed for weekend streaming between March 12 and 28. Photo by Justin Barbin

Meet Tomas, 9-year-old boy who overcomes challenges of being an outsider in the classroom as told in “Tomás and the Library Lady,” a play for young audiences based on the true story of American educational leader and author Tomás Rivera.

Ismael Lara:Director Ismael Lara, Jr., MFA directing candidate at Northwestern’s School of Communication and Lighting Designer Brian Jordan, MFA scenic design candidate confer over lighting cues during the filming of Imagine U’s “Tomás and the Library Lady.” Presented by the Wirtz Center for the Performing Arts at Northwestern University, Photo by Justin Barbin

“It’s important for us to acknowledge the giants of all cultures and backgrounds who have paved the way,” said Ismael Lara, the production’s director and an MFA directing candidate at Northwestern’s School of Communication. “Tomás Rivera was a Chicano who achieved many ‘firsts’ and we must honor him and thank him for dreaming of the future for the Latinx community,” said Lara.

Carnegie Library:Tomás (Daniel Calderon ’24) discovers the Carnegie Library and the Library Lady(Ruby Gibson’22)in the Wirtz Center for the Performing Arts, Photo by Justin Barbin

Lara generously agreed to answer a few questions about the play for Splash Magazines Worldwide:

What kind of adjustments did you have to make for the performance to comply with COVID-19 safety protocols?


Producing theatre performances during a pandemic requires a great deal of additional collaboration and flexibility.  Our first and foremost priority was the safety of the cast and crew involved.  This required several adjustments to our normal process.  In addition to an entire rehearsal process on Zoom. We were also unable to have more than 5 individuals in the theatre space at any one time while we captured scenes.  Our stage manager was positioned in the “Will Call” window outside the theatre and participated via Zoom as did many other crew members.

What were some of the ways that nine-year-old Tomás experienced being an outsider in his classroom and among his peers?

Language was a significant barrier for Tomás to overcome in the classroom and among his peers. As the son of Mexican migrant workers and a first-generation student in the American education system, Tomás struggled to read and speak English.  With the encouragement of the Library Lady and the power of imagination and curiosity, he overcomes his fears and realizes his passion for reading and writing.

The Library Lady:Ruby Gibson’ 22 plays the Library Lady in the upcoming COVID-safe, Imagine U production, “Tomás and the Library Lady,” Photo by Justin Barbin.

Since a library lady was an important influence in the life of Tomás, the involvement of Evanston Library seems appropriate and enriching.  Can you tell me more about this pairing?

Imagine U has long had a tremendous relationship with the Evanston Public Library. In fact, before each of our plays we present a scene and do a workshop for area students and this year is no different. Our production of Tomás and the Library Lady celebrates  the role of librarians in making a difference for so many in the community and we are attempting to reach out to young  audiences with this production to encourage them to access their public libraries and get to know their librarians. 

Our event on Feb. 27 will include readings in both English and Spanish, music from the play, participatory acting classes and a craft orchestrated by Evanston’s own Library Lady Martha Meyer.

In what way do libraries and books, which served an essential purpose for young Tomás, remain central in his adult life?

Nightmare Teacher: Tomás (Daniel Calderon ’24) confronts his fear of having a scary teacher (Daniel Goldberg ’23) because he is unable to understand English in Imagine U’s “Tomás and the Library Lady.” Photo by Justin Barbin


The spark that was lit for Tomás by the library lady was a key building block to the success Tomás Rivera achieved in life.  He likely never imagined he would someday become chancellor at University of California-Riverside and the first Latinx in that post in the UC system. Nor did he foresee that UC-Riverside would have a library named for him and an annual conference honoring his work as a writer and educator.

“Tomás and the Library Lady,” is based on a book by Pat Mora, based on the life of Tomás Rivera, turned into a play by José Cruz Gonzáles and now filmed so it can be accessed online.  How do you fit into all of this?

This play is very dear to my heart. I grew up without really understanding the sacrifices my family had to make in order for me to have the opportunity to choose storytelling as a career path. It’s been no easy feat for the team and I to hold this story about Tomás Rivera to the light during this time. However, we feel honored to be celebrating a giant of the Latinx community. A man who paved the way for many of us to feel like we too can overcome our fears of the education system. My duty throughout this process has been to create community, experiment and inspire radical gratitude, while making certain our actors felt safe and cared for. 

Papá Grande: PapáGrande (Daniel Mares ‘23) is just one of the cardboard puppet characters that appears in Imagine U’s “Tomás and the Library Lady.” Presented by the Wirtz Center for the Performing Arts at Northwestern University, Photo by Justin Barbin

Puppets are an important part of this production.  Is this original to the NU production? What is the role of the puppets?

 There have been other productions of Tomás which have incorporated puppets, but what is special about the NU production is this is the first virtual production that José (playwright) was aware of and the first virtual production to incorporate puppets made out of cardboard.  The mechanics of Papa Grande’s mustache and eyebrows alone are worth seeing this show.  The Wirtz Center production team is phenomenal in bringing to life the visions of our student designers.

Is there anything in addition that you would like to share with Splash Magazine Worldwide readers?

 
We encourage all Splash readers to join us for Tomás and the Library Lady March 12-28 (weekends) and visit the website for tickets and more information.