The Power of Stories: The Romero Theater Troupe and the Denver Teachers Strike

Stories are one of the most human things we do. They are vital to the human experience. The Romero Theater Troupe made me realize just how powerful stories can be.

Back during my time in graduate school, I stumbled upon a little theater troupe in the Denver area. At the moment, and after several major life setbacks, I was uncertain if I was even going to finish my graduate degree. It as one of the more difficult periods of my life and I was just trying to put one foot in front of the other. I was in a kind of limbo, but I was looking around for a project so I could complete my Master’s research in anthropology and move on.

A friend recommended I check the Romero Theater Troupe out. At the time I was unsure of what to think. A theater organization with no actors? A group that just told stories about the community? It sounded interesting but I was unsure of what to do. So, I reached out to James Walsh, the founder of the Troupe and we got coffee.

A side note, I will never forget that morning, partly because of my introduction to Jim and partly because I accidentally ordered bagels and lox… which I had never had before and biting into it as I was talking to Jim I was shocked to realize I was eating fish. I like Bagels and Lox now, but it was one of those silly moments where you eat something unexpected and are trying to keep a straight face to a total stranger.

After meeting Jim, I was felt a sense that something interesting was going on with him and this Troupe. He simply radiated a kind of joy that I hadn’t encountered very often in my life. He spoke of how important community stories were and having read Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States” I was intrigued, so, that weekend I went to the rehearsal.

I was shocked. What they called a ‘rehearsal’ was a lot of time in the beginning with the community checking in. They circled up and everyone talked about issues they were facing, story ideas, community activism events and then, and only then, when everyone had their say, did they begin working on scenes.

The very first scene I saw them work on, was the life of a conscientious objector to the First World War named Ben Salmon (I am currently working on a short form documentary about his life) and how despite being tortured by the military and abandoned by his church, he never wavered in his courage to say ‘Thou Shalt Not Kill’

But there were more stories, a lot more, and over the next weeks and months as I began my research and filming the documentary Unbound: The Story of the Romero Theater Troupe, these stories changed me forever. There were stories about mothers and children being driven apart by a broken immigration system. Stories about a man who nearly lost his life at the hands of the police for apparently making an illegal left turn. Stories about a group of Janitors on the very college campus where they were rehearsing facing terrible workplace abuse and total apathy from those around them. A story of a homeless man who died alone and in the cold because of our apathy. With each story, I heard, I found myself rethinking my views on the world. With each story I heard, I began to understand how powerful sharing your story is and how amazing a community can be to help one another.

Fast forward to this week. The teachers in Denver went on strike and, like they often do, The Romero Theater Troupe reached out to them to give them a space to share just what they go through every single day as a teacher. They accepted and, even though the strike ended quickly, the Troupe insisted that it was important for teachers to share their story, to show the world just what it’s like to do one of the most demanding jobs out there. In this vein, the Denver Paper, The Westword heard about what the Romero Theater Troupe was doing and did an article on them and the Teachers Strike. You can find that article here.

The Romero Troupe will be performing their new play in support of teachers on February 22nd on Auraria Campus at 7pm in the North Classroom Building room number 1130. The play is free but donations to teachers will be accepted.

I often tell people what the Troupe taught me, stories are what will save the world. If you can, share yours. You have no idea how powerful sharing your story can be, both to heal, and to show people that they are not alone in their struggle. Write it down, tell a friend, record a video, whatever form it takes, share if you can and are ready. We are all in this together and you would be surprised how often someone has a story similar to your own.

The Importance of Storytellers and Douglas Adams (Excerpt for the Battle for Langeles)

Image result for the hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy

To me, stories have been among the most important things in my life. From a young age I was always an avid book lover and of course, I grew up watching tons of media and even enjoying stories in the video game world (Final Fantasy 7 and Bioshock Infinite are among my favorite game stories).

Stories influence us, they shape us, they help us to ask difficult questions all while giving us the distance to think about them in a meaningful way. Few other things in this world are impactful as sharing personal stories or reading a good book.

For my Masters Research, I worked with the Romero Theater Troupe, a theater organization that lets everyday people tell their stories on stage and share their struggles with the world. It was working with the Romero Theater Troupe that I realized how powerful our stories are for making a positive change to society and I had a moment of personal reflection where I realized I wanted to focus and tell more stories myself because I believe that it is through storytelling that we can really change the world.

I have always written, but after working with the Romero Theater Troupe, I started thinking about the stories that have influenced me in life. One of the most important influences to me was Douglas Adams, the Science Fiction Writer who is best known for his Series, The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy

I’ve read this series four times, and each time I grew to realize just how much depth there is behind the laughter. Adams brings in so many relevant points about politics and power and other, still relevant, issues that we face in daily life, all through the eyes of a man who not only reluctant to go on a journey in space, but just wants a good cup of tea (He actually almost gets an entire spaceship full of people killed over a cup of tea) and to go to bed early. 

Sometimes as authors we put little easter eggs or allusions hidden throughout our work, marking tribute to the contribution of other authors or things that influenced us. In book 3 of my series, The Chronicles of the Great Migration, The Battle for Langeles, I have a small tribute to Douglas Adams.

What Author’s or Stories Influenced Your Life? Feel Free to Share in the Comments.




Excerpt from Chapter 13 Rigel’s Dream, Rigel’s Debt (Spoiler Free)

Louis glided down the hall, his upper body stiff and his feet pumping furiously towards Dr. Solidsworth’s Lab. His motionless shoulders and arms moved only with the rhythm of his torso. He took wide, gapping steps. He moved quickly enough that several times he had to reach up and adjust his glasses.

Louis Franklin was the only person in the entire city of Manhatsten, and possibly the remainder of humanity, that still wore glasses. These were no ordinary reading glasses, they were, by ancient standards, granny-grade frames with bottlecap-thick lenses. Louis didn’t like the idea of laser eye surgery, and the idea of a digital optical implant–they had replaced contact lens in 2042CE–going anywhere near his eye was the most terrifying thing he had ever heard of.No, glasses worked perfectly fine.

Sweat gathered at the line between his short, slicked-back hair and pale, light-skinned forehead. His lab coat, which stopped early at his upper thighs, shifted as he moved. He had to hurry, the timely delivery of the news could make all the difference. He rushed into Dr.Solidsworth’s door, slamming his body against the hard metal surface. Louis had forgotten that Dr. Solidworth had extra security protocols on his lab and that the door would not open on approach.

“Keypad,keypad, where is that keypad.” He searched to the left and the right of the door but did not see it. He looked again; he still did not see it. Then he remembered that there was a request access code for a holo-key pad display, an extra precaution to unwelcomed visitors. “AI, would you please display the holo-key pad.”

“Please state your authorization code, Dr. Franklin.”

“Alpha, Gamma, Seven, Six, Nine, Eight.”

“What did the dolphin say?”

Louis rolled his eyes, he forgot about the security answer. He could understand why Dr. Solidsworth was paranoid after the attempt on his life decades earlier, but how many passwords and secret phrases did he think he needed before he felt safe?

“I don’t suppose you could give me another hint.”

“No, Sir, Dr. Solidsworth does not allow additional hints.”

He racked his brain. He knew it had something to do with one of Dr. Solidsworth’s favorite books, but for the life of him, he couldn’t remember it. Something about fish… fish and dolphins, what would the dolphin say? He knew dolphins never had the power of language in the way that humans did. Of course, Louis had never actually seen a dolphin other than in ancient movies and a few pictures. He would have never even looked them up if Dr. Solidsworth had not given him the passphrase.

“Ah ha! I remember! The dolphin said, ‘So long and thanks for all the fish.’”

“Very good, Sir,” replied the AI.