Iride Aparicio

Photos Credit: Jude Calvillo

SUNNYVALE, CA --Sunnyvale Community Players is thrilled to celebrate the return to in-person performances with a creative presentation of the masterful  musical WEST SIDE STORY where Shakespeare's  characters of  Romeo and Juliet from his Romantic tragedy of the same name, are transported from Venice, Italy of the 1300, 1400, or 1500 centuries, to New York City in the l950's, and this time, mpersonated  by Tony, a Pollack boy, and Maria, a Puerto Rican girl, both living in the West Side of the city, a barrio of middle class people where on a day to day basis, are fights between the The Sharks, the Puerto Rican gang, and  The Jets, the Americans' gang. The neighborhood of poor New Yorkers where families are tryin to earn their living and teenagers are struggling to survive without parents supervision. And because they practically live on the streets, they cause trouble. Because of it, the West Side is a place often visited by policemen because of street fights, a neighborhood where the Americans have a lot of  hatred for the Puerto Ricans, because they feel that they invaded their turf and they fight to defend it, beat each insult other and then go home. But this changes on day, when after a knife fight, a boy dies.

With the book written by Arthur Laurents, the music score by Leonard Bernstein and the Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, as a musical WEST SIDE STORY is widely regarded as among the best musicals ever written. This new production, will give those unfamiliar with the musical the opportunity to see the reasons why.

To give our readers a preview of the preparation that went into this new production of the multi Awards winning Musical which included Best Picture in l962, Cultural World Bilingual interviewed THOMAS TIMES, who is going to direct the Sunnyvale Community Players performances of WEST SIDE STORY, that will open on September 11 at the Sunnyvale Theatre. Thomas introduces himself as: Director, Writer, Teacher and actor.  

C.W.B. What attracted you to theater?
T.T.: "I have been doing theater for most of my life. I started in church and continued doing theater when I was in Middle school. I started directing when I was in Middle School and then I began doing musicals in High School where I did my first, West Side Story. In college, I made my own theatre and since then, I have been doing theatre acting, writing, directing, all that stuff all my life. And I also do film."

C.W.B:  How did you make the transition from actor to director?"
T.T. "I just started making my own projects, and because I needed somebody to direct them and I was the only person available, I started directing them"

C.W.B. Based on your experience, what can you tell us about theater?
T.T. "I think that (acting) in theater is an experience. The difference between acting in film and acting in theater that I see, is that when you see acting in film, you can watch a show a bunch of different times and every time you watch it, everything is the same. In live theater, every performance is different, even if you watch it with the same actors, because actors react to things that are happening around them. Because of it, every performance is different. To me a real theater experience is like being in a boat looking out at the scenery and you know that you are never going to experience that same moment twice. In film, because it is on tape, you will always see the same thing, over and over and over again. Another difference in live theater is that actors react to their audience. If the audience is more rowdy one night, it will affect their performance. Also in the theatre, you (the actor) are there in the same room with the audience, there are no walls separating the audience from the actors. This is really an experience that affects every single piece of acting

C.W.B. changing the subject from acting to directing, as Director of this Musical, what is your concept of West Side Story?

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L-R Maria (Samantha Mills) and Tony (Peter Spoelstra

T.T."I define WEST SIDE STORY as a show who is super-classic and as a show who is super-meaningful, especially at this time. Some of the scenes that I will be presenting in our version of WEST SIDE STORY are super-relevant to our time. Probable, more important now than they were before."

C.W.B. So you don't believe that showing a show like WEST SIDE STORY today may rekindle the racial hatred from Americans to Latinos?

T.T. "Are you asking me if WEST SIDE STORY is a good show to present right Now.
C.W.B. Yes.

Thomas ponders for a few seconds before answering.

T.T.  "I say yes.  I believe that WEST SIDE STORY is the most important show to do right now. "

C.W.B. Why?
T.T. "Because I think that showing a show like this,  when a world looks the way it does, is necessary because you don't stay away from talking about the things that are important.  It will be ignorant of us to ignore the hatred that is going on in the world. So, by doing a show that practically reflect the time we are living in, is real important.  You see, we are not showing our audience a happy show, we are doing a show that is meaningful to them because lots of people know that WEST SIDE STORY actually reflect the time we are living in. People don't really understand, or, maybe, only understand WEST SIDE STORY in a certain way. Some people only think that the show is a show about brown people versus white people, but it is not. It is about something much different. The show was not written to be Brown people against White people. What this show is about is to tell us what it is to be American. It is important, super important to talk about racism, but racism is not Black against White, especially today. It goes so much bigger and so much deeper than that. Racism (discrimination based on race) now is not discrimination, is hatred. And because there is so much hatred now,  a show like WEST SIDE STORY is necessary to do, and to be seen.

C.W.B. As a Director, how are you going to handle the race problem in the show?

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L-R Maria (Samantha Mills) and Tony (Peter Spoelstra) in West Side Story

T.T. "The first way for me to handle the race problem in the show was to be sure that the cast was appropriate. Puerto Ricans are Afro-Latino, so I was sure that every actor on the Puerto Rican side, will identify the Latinos with the Blacks to represent The Sharks (the name of the Puerto Rican Gang). Everybody else in the cast, I put it in The Jets (the name of the American's gang) so, in this show, The Jets are not all white because they represent America.  We have lots of Asian Americans in their group with the Caucasian actors. We have a very diverse cast in which I am trying to represent not only the time in the show, but the culture represented in the show."

C.W.B. As a director, did you select the cast?
T T. Yes. I oversaw the entire casting and we selected not only very good actors for the roles but actors with good vocals. They cannot only sing the songs but act their roles and portray their characters in a way that it will really elevate the story.
For the vocals we have Mary Carroll. Though the musical was written for the world of the l950's WEST SIDE STORY still remain timeless. And everything in our show is phenomenal

WEST SIDE STORY is Produced by Steve Shapiro, Kevin Surace and Marcie Shapiro, and Directed by Thomas Times, Music Director Kevin Surace, Choreographer Marcie Shapiro, and Vocal Director Mary Carroll.


Cultural World Bilingual will end our interview with director Times, by copying his words of wisdom written in the Sunnyvale Players Organization press release:

"And dare I say that the world of 2021 needs WEST SIDE STORY more than ever before. Through the lens of l950s New York, we witness a love story that is doomed to fail because the system of oppression in place believes where you were born determines who you can love, what you can do, and who you can be. Hopefully we can learn from the missteps and mistakes of the people in our story, to develop a better world for those who are coming after us. "

WEST SIDE STORY will play at the Sunnyvale Theatre within the Sunnyvale Community Center: 550 East Remington Drive, Sunnyvale, CA 94087 until October 3, 2020. For tickets and information go online to .