FIU theatre alumnus Juan P. Espinosa’s original play beat out the likes of Tennessee Williams and John Steinbeck to earn his South Dade Senior High School students a winning ticket to represent Florida at the Education Theatre Association’s Thespians Festival later this month.
Espinosa’s one-act play, “Amygdala,” was praised by the judges at the recent Florida State Thespian Festival in Tampa who chose his production from among 50 others to represent the state at the national festival in Lincoln, Nebraska.
He is the second FIU theater alumnus to lead a high school troupe to represent Florida at the national festival. Paul Lobeck ’97 also wrote an original play, “The Serpent,” for students to perform.
Like Lobeck’s troupe, Espinosa was unsure his students would be able to attend the Nebraska festival due to the high cost of transportation and registration. A majority of Espinosa’s students are economically disadvantaged.
“A lot of them have never left Florida,” he added.
In mid-June, Espinosa and South Dade High School’s theatre department reached out to the South Florida community and were able to raise the last $11,000 needed for bus transportation.
Once in Nebraska, Espinosa’s students will compete against other schools from around the country, have their work reviewed by professionals and attend auditions for college admissions and thespian scholarships.
“They’ll be able to see other high quality plays at the national competition,” Espinosa said. “And it’s good for their resumes.”
Two of those students, Marco Guerra and Mary Maturana, were awarded superior ratings for their monologues at the Tampa competition. They will compete against other students and receive feedback from theater experts in Nebraska.
Espinosa originally developed the play in his senior semester at FIU and called it “Apple.” He said it had a medieval feel to it and has since adapted “Amygdala” for modern day.
In the play, the audience follows a man named James. He and his wife have been in a terrible car accident, and his wife is missing. A confused and frightened James attempts to find his wife, but discovers his search is in vain.
“At the end of the play he realizes this is all going on in his head,” Espinosa said. “He damaged his amygdala and his wife passed away in his arms.”
“Amygdala” follows Espinosa’s original ideas, but he asked his students for input on the script and some students even helped develop the characters.
The Nebraska competition will be the fifth performance of the play. Although the competition is for the overall student production and not for playwriting, Espinosa is excited to find out what the national judges have to say about his work.
“It gives me an opportunity to get my play out there,” he said. “It would be amazing if I could get that opportunity to publish it.”