When Alex Alpharaoh was two months old, he and his 15-year-old mother were almost killed in a bomb blast in La Limonada, a shantytown in Guatemala City. To escape the violence, they began their journey to the United States, where they would start their lives anew in Los Angeles, albeit in the shadows, undocumented.
Despite his birthplace and citizenship status, Alex describes himself as “an Angeleno through and through.” Although he grew up in a city where the Latinx/Chicanx culture and community thrives, he never identified with it. Instead, he found himself through hip hop and acting. “You will see a lot of poetic vibes and feelings in all of my writing, whatever the medium. Everything I do comes with some sort of poetic expression.”
Although the playwright became a DACA recipient in 2013, his life turned around in 2016 when the Trump administration began enforcing stricter immigration policies. Around the same time, Alex was in Guatemala on Advance Parole taking care of his ailing grandfather, unsure of whether he would be able to return to the U.S. once the travel ban was reinstated. “I remember calling my artistic family at the time and telling them that I am in Guatemala and I may not come back. I remember asking, ‘What can I offer in exchange for me to come back home?’ And I made myself and my God a promise: ‘If you allow me to come back home, I will tell this story.’ And then I came back home.” Alex would ultimately tell that story through WET: A DACAmented Journey.
Premiering on Center Theatre Group’s Digital Stage with a free screening on June 15—the ninth anniversary of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)—this performance captured live at the Kirk Douglas Theatre rockets between hilarity and heartbreak to capture Alex's travels to a home country he’d never known as part of his relentless journey toward becoming a documented citizen of the U.S.
Although this is the digital premiere of WET, Alex has been developing and touring this show for nearly four years. “I wrote the first draft, which was just a set of bullet points, and I put them on a music stand and just started narrating.” Since then, the show has made its rounds in festivals and venues across the country, changing and evolving with the times.
Over the past few years, with heightened political rhetoric around immigration and borders, Alex has found that this play resonates differently during different political administrations—although, not necessarily in the way he wanted it to, as deportations and violent immigration policies continue to be enforced. “One of the worst things about this whole situation is that when this play started, there were over 14 million people who didn’t have citizenship. And now there are 11 million. What happened to the other 3 million people?” he asked. “My parents immigrated because they were surrounded by drugs and violence—a direct result of United States imperialism. What is the difference between me and someone who is a citizen? Nothing—except for the privileges and rights that are denied to undocumented individuals.” And, along with the crushing weight of immigration policy, the pandemic put a halt to the show and the industry at large.
“The pandemic has caused me an incredible amount of fear. I am surprised that I survived, and that I am still here. Having lived the life of being an undocumented immigrant, I still carry that fear of being taken away from my home,” Alex said. “It was really difficult to get work. Our industry almost died—and God bless the artists and the innovators who adapted quickly to the situation and started to create work digitally. It just goes to show how innovative, creative, resilient, and strong our community is.”
Before Alex decided to bring WET to Center Theatre Group’s Digital Stage, several organizations had asked the playwright to digitize it, but he always declined. However, after appearing in Luis Alfaro’s Oedipus El Rey for the Digital Stage in October 2020, he jumped at the opportunity. “For me to work at the Kirk Douglas Theatre was a dream come true,” he said. “I thought it would be awesome to film my solo show here, especially with its history and connection to Los Angeles. I’ve always loved the work at Center Theatre Group, and I’m grateful that the organization is actively making an effort to diversify the work that has been presented despite being one of the gatekeepers in the industry. We are currently going through a revolution of sorts in the theatre, and there is this surplus of work that needs to come out. I’m grateful to people like Associate Artistic Director Tyrone Davis who can see the power of presenting these stories.”
The collaboration process between Alex and Center Theatre Group was expansive, beyond what he was accustomed to on many of his other original works. Alex is used to steering the wheel when it comes to his performances, so being on a film set with a full crew, production team, and artistic directors was exciting and new.
“It was such an incredible process to have a full team of people committed to realizing the vision of the production,” Alex said. “All I had to do was show up and be an artist. That was both terrifying and refreshing—terrifying because I wasn’t in control of everything and had to put trust into my team and the organization. I have to remember that I had to work really hard to get to this point and remind myself that I had to put trust into others to help tell this story. I’m really proud of myself for being able to get to that point.”
WET is available on demand through July 16, 2021. “I really hope people share this story,” Alex said. “This isn’t just my story. This is a story of a lot of people. And I want people to have faith that things are changing and things are going to get better. And until they do, la lucha sigue!”