I have to give a special thank you to Francisca Da Silveira for letting me know about her play “can i touch it?”. It’s coming to the Strand Theater in Dorchester. A fellow Cape Verdean, Da Silveira requested a shout out, but after looking at what she was doing, I knew she deserved way more. So I wanted to share lots of information about the play, including an interview with Da Silveira.
In her original email, Da Silveira said, “I’m obviously biased but I think that it’s a story people in Boston are going to appreciate and relate to in a really close way. Plus the Strand needs some love as a community art space! I grew up in that area all along Dudley and always wished that it would be used more so that people could see themselves on its stage.” Amen to that!
Check out the teaser trailer for “can i touch it?” followed by an interview with the playwright.
When did you first become interested in being a playwright?
I got into playwriting in high school but have always been interested in writing and telling stories. I am the youngest child in a biiiig Cape Verdean family and there’s 6 years between myself and the 2nd youngest. By the time I was growing into myself, all of my siblings had already started moving out and having families of their own. So I occupied myself with things like books, TV and movies. I started creating my own characters and worlds and eventually learned how to turn those into stories with structure and style. In high school, I submitted a play on a whim to an annual playwriting festival and got in. From there, I started working behind the scenes on plays the school put on, doing things like building sets, costumes, lights. It taught me a different vocabulary for theatre. What drew me to theatre initially was the communal aspect of it, the liveness of the actors on the stage and of the audience around you. To me, it feels closest to the traditional oral storytelling styles that our ancestors used to pass on history, entertain and teach lessons/morals.
Your current play is “can i touch it?”. What’s it about?
can i touch it? follows Shay – a businesswoman, community leader and single mom. She owns a beauty supply store in Dudley Square and is dealing firsthand with the gentrification happening in the area. As chair of the board of a local community center, she and others are working to ensure that the residents of Roxbury have their voices heard, especially as business plans for a new condominium are being negotiated. She faces a big problem though – the same bank that’s building the condos has also increased the mortgage rate on her store and she hasn’t been able to keep up. Not only is she fighting the bank on both personal and professional sides, she also has to deal with a teenage daughter who wants to go to colleges anywhere but Boston and a activist niece who believes that social media is the greatest platform for social change.
Why did you decide to tackle the issues of gentrification and race-based hairstyle discrimination at this time?
Every time I come back to Boston from living in a different city, I am always shocked by just how much has changed in what feels like such short a time. Gentrification is never subtle but it feels like right now, in this city with its housing boom, it’s so loud and in your face and arrogant. There’s something about the dismissive yet blatant nature of gentrification that felt very connected to the discrimination that Black people face when it comes to their hair. Both are deeply invasive and tools to conform spaces and people into white standards of existing. The stories that I’m inspired to write about right now are stories that feel pressing and immediate, and both topics are very much pressing and immediate, especially in these last couple of pandemic years when people seem more open to having transparent conversations about housing inequities and general workplace race-based discrimination.
How does it feel having your play at The Strand Theater, having grown up in the area?
It still feels surreal to think about having something I created on the Strand’s stages. I feel like more people know what the shutters look like than what the actual inside of the lobby looks like – I know I did growing up and walking by the theater almost every day. I’ve had a deep love for the space since I was 18. I had already chosen playwriting as my career path and was home for the summer before starting at New York University. Seeing the shutters open for an end of summer multicultural event, I went in with these fresh, ambitious eyes and marveled at a space that rivaled that of a Broadway house…in my neighborhood! Something sparked from that day that kept growing and growing and now has blossomed, thanks to Company One Theatre’s pre-existing relationship with the City of Boston and their commitment to doing work that has genuine purpose and connection to the people in the places they produce in. I know that 18 year old me would be so proud right now and also saying, ‘about time!’
What are you hoping people come away with after watching “can i touch it?”
I want people to leave the theater feeling seen – either because someone who looked like them was on the stage or because they got and appreciated references to a place they live in or work in or maybe just know. I want people to engage in deep conversations with one another about the ways in which social change can happen and to reflect on the idea that it takes all ways and all people to do it. And lastly, I want people who are interested in theatre or art in general to feel even more inspired to activate artistic spaces in their communities that are underused, undervalued or under resourced.
Show Francisca and the cast and crew some love by checking out “can i touch it? It’s so exciting to see a local woman bringing something special to the community. And the fact that they’re offering pay-what-you-want is incredible, making it accessible to so many people. Break a leg!