The Tempest: A Gentrification Story
By: Laura Baglereau and Khristián Méndez Aguirre
Directed by: Laura Baglereau and Khristián Méndez Aguirre
Performance as Practice Public Graduate Student Association (Austin, TX) – 2018
The Tempest: A Gentrification Story
Laura Baglereau and Khristián Méndez Aguirre adapted and co-directed The Tempest: A Gentrification Story for CTX Austin when they both were graduate students in UT Austin’s Performance as Public Practice (PPP) program. Their goal was to make Shakespeare relevant to the students of color at UT Austin, so they set the action in Austin in 2003, fifteen years prior, to focus on the city’s history of gentrification. From 2000-2010, Austin grew 20.4% but the African American population declined by 5.4%. In the early 2000s white residents would never go to East Austin, but during the 2010s, gentrification increased. From 2000-2010, Central East Austin lost 27% of its African American population and 9.3% of its Hispanic population, while white residents increased by 40%. Today East Austin has high rise buildings mixed in with older buildings, and the formerly Black and Latinx population is now a largely white and Latinx population.
In A Gentrification Story, few lines were changed from Shakespeare’s script, and the story adheres to the same path but with contemporary and local updates. The audience learns that Prospero was kicked out of an upscale Italian restaurant and exiled to East Austin, so she (Prospero) set up “La Isla Bonita” a Mexican, fair trade coffee shop. The women who ran it before were Ariel and Calibán, who remain as the last two Chicanx workers even though Prospero rebranded the coffee shop. As the audience entered the theater, they were seated at tables, as if they were inside the café. The main playing area was a counter adorned with Guatemalan masks and alebrijes, Mexican folk art of fantastical creatures, (created by Prospero as part of her magic) on the tables and the playing space. The café counter served as the box office and had printed menus (theater programs) in both Spanish and English. Tickets were processed at the coffee shop counter and audience members “were offered coffee or tea, the latter was served in trendy in mason jars.” Waiters spoke both Spanish and English. In this construct, all of the consumer goods in the coffee shop became tarnished by gentrification, thereby forcing the audience members to realize their complicity. In so doing, the audience experiences the struggle of being both within the gentrified café and being in the theatre for a Latinx-themed Shakespeare production that concludes with empowered Latinas onstage, outside of the structures that it symbolizes.
Adhering to gentrification norms, the wine that washes up ashore in Shakespeare’s play became kombucha, the beloved drink of contemporary white healthy-lifestyle culture. When Prospero tells Ariel to make herself invisible, Prospero gives Ariel an apron, which too makes her invisible. A humorous point of adaptation was the transposition of Ferdinand’s log-carrying to demonstrate his devotion to Miranda. Instead, Ferdinand’s labor involved him wearing an apron and working behind the café counter. Since he was royalty adhering to Prospero’s game for wooing his daughter, and he was depicted as racially white, this was a comedic moment. He struggled to lift a heavy trash can, which shortly later, Miranda lifted easily with one hand.
In the end, Prospero gives up her magic, and Ariel, still in her black café-worker’s apron, brings Prospero a white cardigan and buttons it for her, indicating her royal (white) code of dress. Prospero leaves, Ariel removes her apron and is therefore free and leaves, but Calibán comes back onstage, sans apron, to tape up a sign that says “Mi” over “La” on the counter “La Isla es Bonita”. It now reads “Mi Isla Es Bonita” (My Island is Beautiful). As Ariel and Caliban had spoken the prologue together, entirely in Spanish, they also speak Prospero’s last epilogue together. The play ends with two Latinas onstage, free and empowered. With Prospero-Calibán-Ariel all cast as women and Calibán as deliberately made beautiful and given a love interest, Baglereau and Méndez Aguirre placed more emphasis on women and gave Calibán and Ariel the closing epilogue, ending the story with Latina voices. Further, they critique gentrification through a staging concept that implicated the audience in the specificity of the local history.
CARLA DELLA GATTA
 Tang, Eric and Bisola Falola. “Those Who Left: Austin’s Declining African American Population.” The Institute for Urban Policy Research & Analysis. University of Texas at Austin. 2014. Accessed 5 Dec 2020. P.1 Web.
 Castillo, Juan. “Census Data Depict Sweeping Change in East Austin.” Statesman. Statesman.com. 18 Apr 2011. Updates 12 Dec 2018. Accessed 5 Dec 2020. Web.
 “Reoccurring Narratives: Exploring Gentrification and Colonization Through Art.” ORANGE Magazine. OrangeMag. 23 Oct 2018. Accessed 8 Jun 2020.
 Laura Baglereau and Khristián Méndez Aguirre. Zoom interview. 28 Aug 2020.
 Baglereau and Méndez Aguirre noted that gentrification has affected both Latinx and Black communities, but because no Black students auditioned for the show, an essential element to representing Austin’s gentrification was missing.
 Laura Baglereau and Khristián Méndez Aguirre. “The Tempest: A Gentrification Story.” Video. 2018.
 Baglereau and Méndez Aguirre, Video.