Anna in the Tropics to Premiere in Austin at Ground Floor Theatre
The inclusive theater company will showcase the Pulitzer Prize-winning production later this month
By Meher Qazilbash
Photos by Andrea Nuñez
Ground Floor Theatre will present the Austin premiere of Anna in the Tropics from Aug. 12 through 27. Written by Nilo Cruz, the passionate play won the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and will be illuminated on the local stage this summer under the direction of Carl Gonzales.
“This is one of the most beautiful and challenging scripts I’ve had the pleasure of directing,” says Gonzales. “The cast is as incredible as the story, and we cannot wait to share this gorgeous work with our community near and far.”
Set in Florida in the 1920s, Anna in the Tropics depicts the lives of workers in a Cuban-American cigar factory and the family that owns it. While laborers roll the cigars by hand, “lectors” are employed to provide education and entertainment. The promising arrival of a new lector eventually leads to chaos when he reads Tolstoy’s tumultuous classic Anna Karenina, which leaves the workers spellbound and unravels their lives in a way that mirrors the plight of the characters from the novel.
The play will star Ben Bazán (Juan Julian), Davis Segura (Santiago), Tonie Knight (Ofelia), Cherry Mendoza (Marela), Briana Garcia (Conchita), Michael Galvan (Palomo) and Victor Santos (Cheché).
With themes like technological advancement, money and love, the story offers a thrilling exploration of timeless issues. The production also fits with Ground Floor Theatre’s commitment to sharing narratives surrounding historically overlooked populations.
“Our goal is to really try to raise up and shine a light on communities that don’t, as we say, usually get to bask in that glow,” says Lisa Scheps, founder and co-artistic director of Ground Floor Theatre. “Anna in the Tropics falls into this because it highlights a community that we don’t know a lot about, a family that has a cigars rolling company in 1929 Tampa. And it’s also serving the Latinx community.”
“One of my personal mission statements is to uplift the BIPOC community, the queer community and other communities that are underrepresented,” adds Gonzales. “I’m glad that we have theater companies like Ground Floor helping lead the way and helping tell these stories. Hopefully, other artists in Austin continue to do that or start to do that because, in the nicest way possible, we are not going back to the way things were.”
Ground Floor Theatre’s dedication to inclusivity and accessibility goes beyond the stories they tell. Every show follows a Pay What You Can policy so that money is never a barrier preventing audiences from seeing shows. Other members of the city’s theater circle are invited to rent their space at a reduced rate, ensuring that all of Austin’s thespians have the ability to contribute to the vibrant storytelling scene.
In further efforts to give back to the community, Ground Floor Theatre has signed onto the Gun Neutral initiative for the entertainment industry. As a part of this initiative, each time a gun is used in one of their productions, Ground Floor will make a financial contribution to an anti-gun violence organization. For the weapons used in Anna in the Tropics, the theater will donate to Moms Demand Action.
“What we’re trying to do in the long term is create equity through art,” says Scheps. “We’re committed to equitable treatment of everybody, the people that work with us, our employees, our audiences, everybody. We really want Ground Floor Theatre to be a home where everybody feels welcome.”
Performances of Anna in the Tropics will be held starting Aug. 12 at 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 5 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are on sale now at groundfloortheatre.org/anna.