Actor and director Augusto Contreras combined a classic Shakespearean story with 956 influences to create the original production “This is not Romeo & Juliet” — a play by the RGV, for the RGV.
Whereas “Romeo and Juliet” is a dramatic story of star-crossed lovers from two opposing families who forbid the couple from being together, “This is not Romeo & Juliet” is a romantic comedy about a pair from Sharyland and Las Milpas.
Contreras, who co-wrote and co-directs the play with Carlos Cravioto, said he wanted a production that speaks to local culture.
“There’s a reason I decided to stay in the Valley. I’m not from the Valley but I fell in love with the Valley,” Contreras said. “Not only did I fall in love with my wife and wanted to stay here in the Valley because of her, I wanted to stay in the Valley because I love the culture.”
Contreras is from Monterrey, but he moved to the RGV with his parents when he was younger. The first place he lived was Sharyland. Eventually, his education took him to New York to study theater and to Miami to study acting. He earned a master’s degree in New York and another at the then-University of Texas – Pan American. Contreras became a teacher in Valley View, Hidalgo and STC. And in 2014, he and his wife founded the Creative Art Studio — a space that provides music, dance, theater and art to the RGV community. He is also on the Hidalgo City Council.
But in all his time in the local theater scene, Contreras realized most directors focus on mainstream theater, which does not reflect life in the Rio Grande Valley. He wanted to change that and highlight stories the RGV community could relate to. So about a year ago, he began the creative process for the Creative Art Studio theater production “This is not Romeo & Juliet.”
When CAS released the poster on social media, which features Sharyland’s Richard Thompson Stadium and Las Milpas’s Mr. Freeze snack stand, he said it caused a lot of commotion. Although the majority laughed about it, he said a few were offended. But Contreras stressed that the play is meant to honor RGV culture.
“I love the 956, I love the quema o no quema, I love the takuache, I love the Bronco 956, I love la Pulga de Alamo,” the 39-year-old said. “We are so rich but yet we don’t celebrate that with our theater.”
Contreras believes that Valleyites do not take pride in where they come from, which is why there are so few stories about the region. He recalled when he taught high school and middle school and how students felt they needed to leave the RGV to find success.
“That was kind of like the number one thing they said, ‘I’m going to make it out of the Valley.’ Like if you have to. And you don’t,” he said. “The Valley is providing for people now. The Valley is growing. We have hospitals, we have malls, we have all kinds of businesses. And the more we understand that, the richer and bigger we’re going to become as a community.”
The director said he chose to pay homage to Shakespere’s “Romeo and Juliet” because it is a story about clashing communities. He wants to show the Valley that our differences are our strengths and the social stratification is an illusion. Above all, his goal is to showcase RGV excellence.
“All the cast members are from the Valley and the audience can laugh, they can get the puns — their puns. There’s gonna be a lot of who we are,” Contreras said. “And it’s a play for us because I believe if people from Monterrey come and watch this, they’re not going to get half of it. If people from New York come and watch this, they’re not going to get half of it. But people from the Valley, we’re going to get 100% of it.”
As of now, “This is not Romeo & Juliet” will only run for two performances on June 2. But if they sell out, CAS will consider continuing the show through the summer. The play is at Valley View Fine Arts Auditorium at 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. Tickets are available at any Creative Art Studio location.