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The Man Behind the Curtain

Writer Mando Alvarado on the unifying power of bi-lingual theatre for young audiences.

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El Otro Oz, playing at the Kirk Douglas Theatre March 2nd and 3rd, is a fresh take on the classic story of The Wizard of Oz. Dorothy is now Dora, a contemporary Latiné teenager who is struggling with her cultural identity as her quinceañera draws near, but her journey through the history of Latin America helps her accept and celebrate herself and her culture.

In addition to co-writing the musical’s book, Mando Alvarado is a playwright and writer and producer for TV and film. It is safe to say that El Otro Oz is a departure from some of his previous work that tackles themes of death, war, and infidelity. But it still has the same heart and meaningful message behind it. Oz, in this version, is an amalgamation of various Latin American countries, with the impacts of colonization brewing in the background.

When writing El Otro Oz, Alvarado asked himself, “When your children grow up and they want to know what kind of writer you were...what will it say to them?”

Alvarado found theatre in the seventh grade. He initially had to take drama class as a general arts requirement and only hoped to pass so he could continue playing football after school. But he fell in love with it. He hopes that, through El Otro Oz, students can come to learn to love theatre, too.

Audience reactions might prove that to be true. “Kids are feeling like their journeys are being reflected, their own lives are being reflected through characters they can relate to,” Alvarado said. “It’s one of the reasons...I’m doing something right; this feels like we are doing more than just putting on a play to entertain.”

But entertain it does! The Atlantic Theater production was chosen as a New York Times Critics’ Pick and was extended until March 3rd. A part of its success may be because Alvarado hopes there is something for everyone to learn from the show.

“I think it will make [audiences] feel okay about where [they] are as a teenager and the difficulties of peer pressure and looking at [their] parents and the sacrifices they made to reach where they’re at,” he said. “And we can all relate to that, generationally, what our parents...did to give you the life they didn’t have.” He added that he hopes parents in particular will leave with a better understanding of their children and awareness of what they are struggling with.

Another important aspect of the musical is that it is bi-lingual, in English and Spanish. He spoke of how there are not many bi-lingual musicals currently being produced in the United States, let alone ones written for younger audiences. He feels it speaks particularly to, “the heart of assimilation and straddling two worlds.”

Regardless of where audiences are from, Alvarado hopes audiences can relate to the characters onstage. “When kids are experiencing it, there are little moments where [they] go, ‘I’ve heard my mom talk about that, or my grandmother talks about that,’” he said.

Alvarado hopes for the future of the young audiences in attendance that theatre will continue to tell stories that reflect many different identities and cultures.

“The battle of traditional theatre and theatre that seeks to put underrepresented voices on stage I think will continue, just like the battle in our own country of identity and communities wanting to see themselves represented,” he said. “If I were to wave a magic wand, we would take a story at face value about what it feels like being a human being and find a way to relate to that as opposed to using identity as a way to define a story. I don’t know if we will ever get there...but I wish that [plays] all have value...not to check a box, but because it has something to say that we can all relate to.”

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