Rollins College has set out to make its production of "Anna in the Tropics" as much a community experience as a theatrical one.
Collaborations with a student association and Rollins professors, field trips to the play's setting of Ybor City and a partnership with a local film festival have raised the show's profile beyond the college's Annie Russell Theatre.
"One of the things you always do is to expand your community, make sure you're serving a large audience," said David Charles, the play's director and chairman of the theater department.
"Anna in the Tropics" is the perfect work for that mission, he said, not only because of its artistic merit but because of its Florida connections.
"It's a beautiful piece, a moving piece, a local piece," Charles said.
Nilo Cruz won a Pulitzer Prize for his play set in the Tampa neighborhood of Ybor City during the 1920s. Cuban immigrants there made a living working in the city's cigar-rolling plants. As was common in Cuba, a lector often read the workers stories while they toiled. In the play, a new lector reads Tolstoy's "Anna Karenina," which profoundly affects the lives of the workers, especially the factory's women.
To immerse his cast in the culture, Charles took the actors to Ybor City, where they learned to roll cigars and experienced Cuban dancing. It was educational for him, as well.
"I didn't know Ybor City was literally the cigar-making capital of the world. I had no idea," said Charles, a New Zealander who has lived in the U.S. for 10 years.
"I'm an immigrant so I really do relate to many of the themes of this play. Those themes spoke to me loudly as a director."
Among the play's themes is the push and pull of different culture, an idea that resonated with the multinational cast.
"Costa Ricans, Puerto Ricans, Thai, Greek," Charles says. "It's very cool to see that diversity in the casting."
A modern-languages professor had her class read the play in Spanish. Another professor talked to the cast about Cuban-American history. The college's Latin American Student Association will sponsor a Cuban-themed opening-night party.
Reaching off campus, the college partnered with the 9th Orlando Latin American Film and Heritage Festival, or OLA Fest, which runs Feb. 8-17. The festival website promotes the play; festival director Nelson Betancourt will speak at a special event at the theater.
"We want to place plays in our season that celebrate inclusivity," Charles said. "What a great way to use theater."
'Anna in the Tropics'
• Where: Annie Russell Theatre, Rollins College, 1000 Holt Ave., Winter Park
• When: 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, Feb. 8-9, and Wednesday-Friday, Feb. 14-15; 4 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 10; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 16
• Tickets: $20 ($25 opening night); $10 students
• Call: 407-646-2145
• Opening-night: On Friday, Feb. 8, Rollins' Latin American Student Association will sponsor a Cuban-themed party that includes food. It's included with an opening-night ticket.
• 'Snapshots of the Cuban American Experience': This talkback will feature panelists from Rollins' Department of Modern Languages and Nelson Betancourt, executive director of OLA Fest. The discussion will focus especially on the experiences of Cuban immigrants in the 1920s, with Betancourt talking on specific conditions relating to labor and factory workers. The event follows the 4 p.m. show on Sunday, Feb. 10.