“Chelsea People”: Getting to Know Your Community Through Theatre

Jessica Armijo Sabillon, right, with her family at O’Malley State Park in Chelsea. (L-R) Daughter Michelle, 13, her husband Reymer and daughter Adriana, 17. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Produced by Apollinaire Theatre Company
Part of Apollinaire in the Park 2020 (Online Edition): Chelsea People
Directed by: Danielle Fauteux Jacques
Music directed by David Reiffel
Composition by Allyssa Jones, David Reiffel, and David Rivera

August 8th 2020 at 8PM
The Chelsea Collaborative – Jessica L. Armijo
Apollinaire on Facebook
Chelsea Collab on Facebook

Critique by Afrikah Smith

ZOOM — How well do you know your community? Your neighbors? Friends? In our daily interactions, or lack thereof, we each hold a story within us worth telling, waiting for the right moment, or perhaps, the right people to tell.

In Apollinaire in the Park 2020: Chelsea People, the theatre challenged itself to create original plays and music based on interviews by community members nominated by the city’s leading community organizations: GreenRoots and the Chelsea Collaborative. The series ended with the story of Jessica Armijo.

So… Who Is Jessica Armijo? Jessica is a mother, dancer, and an advocate for the immigrant community; fighting for everyone’s place in Chelsea, making sure that they’re cared for. As a member of the Chelsea Collaborative, Jessica has educated immigrants on their rights, and has been on the frontline of feeding Chelsea residents daily in response to the current pandemic. As an immigrant from Honduras, Jessica knows firsthand the importance of community and the value of helping those in need.

The sisters of Fortitude, Folklorica, and Serendipity take us away into a fairytale of this legendary and local hero, with help from the company. Filled with songs made accessible in both English and Spanish, dance, personal photos, and media, the company weaved together touching portrayals of Jessica’s family and life: one actor performed ballet de folklorico (a passion of Jessica’s growing up) in traditional garb, while the Honduran flag flew behind her in duet with the sway of their skirt; in one song, the company created a hurricane with props, while another actress sang with suspense and uncertainty for what was next to come. It was the peak moment that influenced Jessica’s decision to immigrate to the United States; to provide a better life for her and her family.

Another moment that touch me was the DACA protest featuring all of the company. It portrayed Jessica’s compassion as an immigrant advocate for the Chelsea community. Following the protest was an original song about staying calm and knowing your rights.

While Zoom had its technical difficulties, they did not stop the performance and instead showed the humanity of it. As theaters are closed until 2021, this performance showed the communal care every company member had in wanting to share Jessica’s story, while also being able to see brief glimpses of who they were themselves in their homes.

Although I had enjoyed this performance, there were a few downsides. Unfortunately, I cannot identify the respective actors, because of the quick transitions and name changes between each scene.

As this was my first time seeing a show with Apollinaire Theater, I could not tell you who had said a line or sung a song, which brings me to my next issue. I find it unfair to not give credit to the actors who performed and what their roles were. New audience members aren’t given the information to distinguish actors from characters. This means we cannot give them proper kudos in reviews.

In addition, I wanted to know what the songs were, as they were sung so beautifully, but I could not catch all the names. Even with subtitles, when used for accessible translation, I could not find the titles.

But, despite these problems, I left wanting to know more about my community, especially now when it is needed most. I am inspired by the initiative of using theater to get to know community members and their stories, and using it to build connection during a time when it feels impossible to do so. With Jessica’s story, I wanted to know more about how I can be involved in food drives and the ways I can volunteer to help.

To help Chelsea community members impacted by the COVID-19 virus, please consider donating to the One Chelsea Fund. All proceeds will go towards supporting food pantries, supplementing rent payments, providing childcare and paying utility costs.

To listen to Jessica’s interview on WBUR’s All Things Considered, click here.

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