NYU student production “Mariposa” brings Latina representation to the stage

Tisch student Britney Quiroz put on “Mariposa,” a play highlighting first-generation Latinas, making waves in an industry where Latine people are consistently underrepresented.

Nandini Gupta and Saige Gipson

WSN: This is a small glimpse into Britney Quiroz’s “Mariposa,” an all Latinx-produced show. The play recently finished its run at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. While “Mariposa” is Quiroz’s first show at NYU, she’s always dreamt of working in the theater industry. 

Quiroz: I always knew I wanted to be an actress. I’m talking, like, I came out of the womb, and I was like, “Whoa, I want to be an actress.” No, but I generally always had that feeling of this is my calling. This is what I want to do. I want to be a performer. I want to showcase. I want to be a star, you know? 

WSN: Quiroz grew up on the south side of Chicago. The child of Mexican immigrants, she explains that theater is viewed as an unconventional career choice in her community. 

Quiroz: Theater is so inaccessible in our community. So a lot of, like, the theater that you regularly hear, a bunch of Mexican immigrants cannot go see or are not interested in seeing because the stories being portrayed are not about us. Or they’re so inaccessible to us because of the language. 

WSN: When we look at Times Square today, which houses all of the country’s Broadway shows, we see classics like “Wicked” and “Hadestown.” What we don’t see are shows by Latino writers that cast people from this community. Of course, there are exceptions, such as the lead star of “Bad Cinderella,” which is currently being performed. However, representation overall remains largely low for Latinos in the industry. A Government Accountability Office report, published in October 2022, showed that Latinos remained largely unrepresented and misrepresented in film and theater. Moreover, from 2010 to 2019, Latino representation increased by only 1%. 

Cohen: The biggest thing that drives a production, a commercial production, is always money. How am I going to get the funding to make this happen? And this is kind of where this question of representation comes in, because, at the end of the day, the commercial theater industry, you could argue, is largely white. From the audiences, from the behind the scenes, from the works that are typically produced. So the question is, how do we kind of uplift those new types of narratives of people from different backgrounds when the model is built to uplift white narratives. 

WSN: Francine Torres, an associate arts professor at Tisch, has also directed at Stanford University’s Casa Zapata program, which is dedicated to the promotion of Latino work. She also feels let down by the lack of Latino representation on Broadway.

Torres: Typically, I, whenever I go to the theater, I look around in the audience to see who’s there. And I don’t see a lot of Latine people in the audience. If the community has never been welcomed into the theater, and the prices are very high, it’s very hard for them to go. And even when there is a show that is about them.

WSN: Quiroz believes producers don’t want to produce Latino shows because they’re not the traditional stories that Broadway displays. They are not typically watched by a wide demographic.

WSN: Why do you think that there is less representation of your community? 

Quiroz: I think they’re scared. I think they’re scared. I think that they know how powerful we are, so they need to place all these rocks on us to make sure that we’re down. People are not telling these stories. It’s not because they’re not happening. Because they are happening. It’s because these are the stories that are not meant to be profited from. 

WSN: Famous playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda is the face of Latinos in the entertainment industry. But Quiroz seems reserved to call one person’s portrayal of an entire community accurate. 

Quiroz: I always think about, like, everyone praises “Encanto.” Everyone praises “In the Heights.” It’s like everyone praises these Latinx stories, but let’s go back to those stories, and a lot of those stories, they do talk about patriarchal norms. They do talk about gender bias. They do talk about issues within Latinx families. But it is to a certain extent, like, the certain extent. You can’t go too far with it, because then it’s not profitable. Because then people won’t want to see it.

WSN: Others appreciate Miranda for providing opportunities to the Latino community and to other people of color. 

Torres: That is one person, and I truly am grateful to him because we didn’t have “In the Heights.” We didn’t have a “Hamilton,” and he is sort of, you know, he is sort of somebody I take a great amount of pride, and I’m very grateful to the work he’s providing for so many BIPOC people. And, is “Hamilton” perfect? No, I think “In the Heights” is kind of perfect, in terms of talking about gentrification. But I … Who else do we have sticking up for us all the time? 

WSN: For Quiroz, creating “Mariposa” is an endeavor that travails the realities of her community. The play follows Mariposa, a woman who has to confront abusive and complicated relationships in her Latino family. Because such Latino stories haven’t been shown before, and they are not sugarcoating Latino families, Quiroz thinks producers won’t make money from them.

Quiroz: Radical Latinx theater, I think, showcases the truthfulness of the complexity of Latinidad. And that is what will not be profitable, because then people start to see that, “Oh shit, there’s flaws within our community,” or she is not always like, we’re going to, you know, a little like, Abuela is going to say something bad and then we’re going to break into a song. No, it’s like, we’re going to talk about the real shit.

WSN: Quiroz began writing the script as an assignment for her playwriting class. She knew she wanted to grow the story into a full play, because it portrays the untold stories of life as a first-generation Mexican American Latina. But first, she had to be selected by NYU to put up the show.

Quiroz: I don’t know if sometimes you get the feeling that some things are meant for you or some things, you know that, of course you’re anxious about things, but, like, you know, deep in your heart, that like, you’re meant for something. And like, I just, I knew. I just knew, going into that interview, I knew that it was my closest time to like be told. I want “Mariposa” to, to put people in a place, where they question things and to remember that there’s so many different perspectives to a story, that there’s not one centered answer, that Latinidad is so complex, that being undocumented is so complex, that being a first-generation Latina is not all hearts and flowers. I feel like there’s so many like stories that are, of course, like, yes, empower first-generation Latinas. We’re badasses, of course, but also it’s, like, we go through so much. And romanticizing us just devalues us, because it invalidates all the shit that we had to go through to even be put there in the first place.

WSN: Through “Mariposa,” Quiroz wants to remind Latinas that she sees and feels for them. 

Quiroz: It is for all the Maripositas, you know, all those Maripositas who are looking to, like, break out of their shell. All those Maripositas who feel like they’re the only ones that are going through something, like, I want those Maripositas specifically to know that, like, you’re not the only one. Like, that there is people out there who are fighting for change. There’s people out there who will do anything to, like, empower you, who are creating these safe spaces. And it’s just a matter of, like, not losing hope and not losing yourself.

Contact Nandini Gupta and Saige Gipson at [email protected].