Theater group receives federal grant, travels to Texas for ‘Antona Garcia’

Reality has sunk in for a theater group of Grand Valley State University students and professors, as they purchase airline tickets and put the final touches on the play “Antona Garcia,” to travel to the Chamizal National Memorial
in El Paso, Texas, for the Siglo de Oro Spanish Drama Festival March 6 through 8.

They are the only U.S. theater group invited by the Department of the Interior’s National Park Service, who also funded the travel through a $20,000 grant, to perform at the festival.

The 29 students are led under the direction of GVSU Spanish professor Jason Yancey and theater professors James Bell and Karen Libman. Bell and Yancey worked together to create the first English adaption of Tirso de Molina’s play that will have its premiere stage debut at the festival.

“It’s a tremendous honor for Grand Valley to be able to take a production down there,” Yancey said. “It’s a big deal for us to be able to do it.”

They have been working to create the show since September, after submitting their application to the festival. When they first decided to translate and adapt this drama, they had planned on using it as part of GVSU’s regular season, but the festival was an extra, rare opportunity that they felt confident they could receive.

Yancey has worked with the festival for more than 10 years and knowing what type of play they looked for helped in choosing “Antona Garcia” because it is a drama that they have never seen in Spanish, let alone as an English translation.

Libman called the performance “a ‘premiere,’ premiere.” She said the play will most likely be published and when it does it will be with GVSU’s name, which gives the theater department, and school, more exposure and prestige.

“When we first started we were trying to investigate whether the play had ever been translated into English and you could Google “Antona Garcia” and there would be a handful of things that would come up,” Bell said. “Now that’s no longer the case, Grand Valley comes up as one of the first hits.”

The play is presented with short skits, or “entremeses” between acts performed in Spanish by Yancey’s group of 12 students. They don’t have anything to do with the actual storyline of “Antona Garcia,” but add humor and excitement, Yancey said.

Bell and Yancey said they are proud of all the time and hard work their students have put into making the play come to life, especially since most of the Spanish students have no acting experience.

“This is an extra sort of boost for them, to go from theater interest right onto an international stage,” Yancey said.

The students get an once-in-a-lifetime experience to travel and develop this play with nothing to base it off of, which will help them further their careers in the professional world, Bell said.

“It has been a project that’s brought together groups of students that previously didn’t know each other or hadn’t worked together,” Bell said. “It’s an interesting experience for them to be working on this project that will be part of our theatre season here, but it’s a chance for them to perform in a venue that none of them would have thought they’d have an opportunity to perform in.”

The play has been slightly “trimmed” in order to travel to El Paso, Texas, but when it returns to GVSU, it will have a full-stage production with more student help directed by Libman.

She said she loves that students get a chance to experience something like this and that they get to do it for free.

The festival is in its 37th year and also coincides with a conference of classical Spanish theater scholars. GVSU has a session at the conference where the student actors, Libman, Bell and Yancey will speak with the scholars for more than an hour about the process of translating and creating the play.

“Not only are they doing this performance in a great place, they get a lot more feedback from people who really, really know what they’re doing when it comes to classical theater that I think applies to certainly the rest of their theatre studies, but for my students in Spanish, this is an opportunity that they will probably never have in any other Spanish program across the country,” Yancey said.

Follow up performances, part of GVSU’s regular theater season, will be in the Louis Armstrong Theatre March 30 to April 7. Tickets are $6 to $12 and available by calling the Louis Armstrong box office at 616-331-2300.

“It’s cool, everybody likes things that are cool, this is cool and it’s one of a kind,” Yancey said. “And I’m willing to say the vast majority of people at Grand Valley are not going to get a chance to see something like this again. It’s a cool thing to be a part of.”

More information about the festival and the Chamizal National Memorial is available on the NPS website at

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