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Local Philly artists are preparing to go virtual with online workshops, book-readings, and other opportunities. Photo:Facebook
The North Philly community theater project is preparing to go virtual with online workshops, book readings, and other opportunities. Photo: Facebook

How Power Street Theatre is continuing to bring innovators together in North Philly amid COVID-19

The organization is also streaming a 24-hour Digital Rally for Arts and Culture from Feb. 9 to 10.

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Power Street Theatre, founded by Gabriella Sanchez and Erlina Ortiz, has been offering Latinos in Philadelphia a chance to step into the creative realm of performance art since 2013. 

The organization’s goal was not just to produce theater acts, but also organize social gatherings and other inclusive workshops that bring the community together.

Ortiz, the co-founder and the resident playwright at Power Street, said in a recent interview with AL DÍA that she doesn’t have any plans to stop now. 

In fact, it’s only the beginning of the journey.

“I am dedicated to helping North Philadelphia see art and express themselves through art,” Ortiz said. “We started this theatre because we wanted to show people that we can create and work together. This is our mission, this is the work that I want to do.”

Ortiz and Sanchez’s first production, MinorityLand was rooted in the community around them. 

The play is about gentrification and how residents of the neighborhood are affected by discrimination. Throughout its story, the characters find their own ways to fight back.

“MinorityLand is about a lot of students being educated and learning how to make an impact, even if unfortunate things are happening around them,” Ortiz said. “Our characters are always Latino and different backgrounds.”

In addition to telling these community-driven stories, Ortiz and Sanchez started Power Street because ticket admissions to get into Center City theaters were not financially viable for other residents in North Philadelphia.

“North Philadelphia really liked theater, our theater is more accessible financially. It’s very difficult for a lot of people to have to pay hundreds of dollars for a ticket, then pay for parking,” Ortiz explained.

In the process, Power Street has become an integral resource of the Hispanic community. 

They planned other social gatherings like pot-luck dinners and open mic nights, but everything changed when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

“We didn’t know how to reassess for a minute because we didn’t know how to deal with the new normal, thankfully we are artists and tend to be creative,” she said. “Thankfully we are able to transition to the virtual world, we have events that will be happening in a couple of weeks.”

Ortiz and Sanchez thrive on helping the community out, especially when it comes to helping the neighborhood that they were raised in. 

“We will have workshops through Zoom, including financial wellness workshops. A lot of people are struggling with how to make ends meet, offering incentives, the community members can win gift cards, and we are also offering bilingual adult classes,” she said.

Another impactful workshop happening in March is its annual playwriting class, which helps community members tell their stories through an artistic lens.

“These classes are free and we want to show everyone that although we are not together physically, we are still together virtually,” Ortiz said.

Instead of breaking under COVID-19’s pressure, Power Street Theatre has opened its virtual doors to the community, and Ortiz and Sanchez are more dedicated than ever to helping people express themselves through art in these isolated times.

To support, join Power Street Theatre at the upcoming Digital Rally for Arts and Culture, on Feb. 9 to 10, which will feature 24-hours of performances to spread the word that local arts are crucial for diverse communities.

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