“American Mariachi” makes its Arkansas debut this week.
Yeyry Perez has more than 15 years experience singing and most weekends you can find her performing with Mariachi Amistad de Arkansas. The 10-piece group formed more than two decades ago and consists of the traditional instrumentation of trumpet, violins, guitar, vihuela and guitarrón. Mariachi music is an iconic part of Mexican culture and Perez found her way into the artform through her husband who was part of the mariachi group.
“I was just kind of thrown in there, so it chose me more than anything, so that’s how I got into it,” Perez says. “Six years later here I am playing the violin, an instrument I had never played before, but it’s super exciting to play with them.”
Perez and her violin can be seen on stage this month as she makes her theatrical debut in TheatreSquared’s production of American Mariachi. The play is the first all-Latino main stage production presented by the Fayetteville-based professional theatre company, which is entering its 15th season. Actor Francisca Muñoz says walking into rehearsal the first day and seeing “tu gente” was such a treat.
“Normally you’re like the one that’s in a room with other people, but to be in a room with so many of your people, it makes it that much more special,” Muñoz says.
Written by José Cruz González, American Mariachi had its world premiere in 2018. Set in the 1970s, the music-filled comedy tells the story of Lucha who spends her days caring for her mother Amalia, who has early onset dementia. When a forgotten record album sparks her mother’s memory, Lucha and her cousin decide to create an all-female mariachi band.
Muñoz plays Amalia and was attracted to this production because of its connections to her personal life. Her family hails from Chile and her father is a musician. Growing up, Muñoz listened to all kinds of music including mariachi music. In addition to acting, she is also a musician who works with companies in New York that provide music therapy to dementia patients.
“It was interesting when this came up for me because I felt like it was sort of meant to be,” she says.
Muñoz has performed in off-Broadway productions and has worked in television and film during her career, but this is the first time she’s worked with a mostly Latino cast and crew. Cast members have connections to Mexico, Chile, Puerto Rico and Argentina. Additionally, the lead roles are played by Latinas, another rarity, Muñoz says.
Rebecca Rivas is directing the Arkansas production and is the first Latina to do so. It’s exciting to work with a female director, Muñoz says, because it’s a different and more nurturing experience.
“She’s very generous with her actors, and she understands her actors and lets them go through that process, so that’s a wonderful thing,” Muñoz says.
That nurturing environment has been helpful to Perez who’s felt very supported by her castmates and she prepares to act on a professional stage for the first time.
“Everybody around here’s just so positive and encouraging that it was easy to let go of any nerves, it was an easy transition,” Perez says. “For sure I was nervous. I’m sure on opening night they’ll come back a little bit, but not anything too bad.”
The cast of American Mariachi will perform in front of a live audience for the first time tonight in preparation for the official opening night Friday. Audiences will get to experience a play that involves a lot of music, love and comedy, Muñoz says. And while the story revolves around a Mexican American family, the story’s themes will resonate with everyone.
“There are some great moments and I think that people who come to see the show will really be able to relate no matter what background they’re from,” she says.
American Mariachi is on stage at TheatreSquared through Aug. 29. In-person and virtual streaming options are available. Tickets and more information can be found at www.theatre2.org.