Sitting side-by-side in a prop car on the dimly lit stage, teenager Olivia Jacobs, played by Sydney Mercado ’19, confesses to her mother Beatriz, played by Denise Taveras ’21, that she lost her virginity at age 12. In a series of honest conversations during a cross-country road trip, Olivia and Beatriz open up to each other after being separated for eight years during a custody battle.
Directed by Emily Ndiokho ’18, Quiara Alegria Hudes’ “26 Miles” explores different relationships within one broken family. The play also touches on more sensitive subjects such as sex and suicide. As Ndiokho’s Theater-901 project, “26 Miles” was a completely student-directed production with an all-student cast.
“My favorite part [of directing the show] was getting to meet my cast. Most of my cast hadn’t done theater before, but they all were incredible actors. I think with my 901 being a smaller-scale show allowed them to express themselves in the best way possible. They constantly brought me joy in all of Winter Term,” said Ndiokho.
In the production, Olivia is an introverted writer who is mistreated by her stepmother and neglected by her father and turns to her writing for solace. Beatriz is a Latina woman who is fiery and passionate about everything and deeply cares about her daughter.
According to Taveras, the hardest thing about playing Beatriz was portraying all of the different and complex aspects of the character, balancing toughness with motherly love.
“[Beatriz] has many, many layers, and for a lot of the time that we spent in class, we spent talking about the different layers of our characters and how to play them. Beatriz is obviously a very fiery person, but the reason she’s like that is because she’s Latina and not white passing, so people don’t look at her the same way that they will look at someone else that’s white. She’s also been through so many men that have not treated her the way that she should have been treated, and I’ve been trying to figure out how to show all of that,” Taveras said.
Rehearsals took place during seventh period throughout Winter Term, which gave the cast the opportunity to bond with one another, according to Mercado.
“It was a class, so I did this all last term during my seventh period. I really just enjoyed spending the end of my day with a great bunch of people who were super fun. We would goof off a lot and play around but it was really nice meeting new people and developing new relationships,” said Mercado.
According to Ndiokho, she was inspired after watching a Theater-901 play two years ago.
Ndiokho said, “The show was called ‘Recent Tragic Events,’ and I was just blown away at the fact that it was directed by a student and all-student cast and how much work and effort came out of a show that was so small but so well done. Ever since then, I was inspired and really hoping that one day I can do something like that and, luckily, with ‘26 Miles,’ I was. I really wanted to do a show that was focused on human relationships in some way or form… and ‘26 Miles’ at its core is about what it means to be a family, or the lack thereof.”
According to Ndiokho, she wants the audience to think about the topics brought up in “26 Miles,” such as identity, love, and family, and have those conversations with people around them.
Ndiokho said, “I would hope that the audience can really now take the time to consider questions like who they believe to be their family and why and what parts of their identity make them them. For example, Olivia is a writer, and oftentimes, people don’t necessary think about themselves outside of their given identity markers which I think is really important. It’s just as equally as important as your race, culture, gender, [or] sexuality, so I hope the audience can now reflect on what it means to be themselves and also reflect on what it means to be a family.”