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Children’s book comes to life on stage this weekend

The American Southwest Theatre Company is preparing its bi-annual children’s play. The stage production opens to the public Friday, Oct. 25, at the NMSU Center for the Arts. For this year’s production, the company is performing “Tomás & the Library Lady.”

Hugo de Billie, left, who plays Tomás, and Yami Holguin, who plays Enrique, rehearse a scene from “Tomás & the Library Lady.” The play will open at the NMSU Center for the Arts Friday, Oct. 25. Two additional performances are scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 26. (Photo by Tom Wise)

The play was written by José Cruz Gonzalez and was adapted from Pat Mora’s children’s book, “Tomás & the Library Lady.” Mora is originally from Santa Fe and graduated from UTEP. Gonzalez is also from the local area and has crossed paths with the play’s director, Claudia Billings.

“I had actually worked with [Gonzalez] way back on a play called “Harvest Moon” that we did here at NMSU,” Billings said.

Billings, who is a professor in the NMSU Theatre Arts Department, came across “Tomás & the Library Lady” by chance when she was given the opportunity to choose the children’s play that the company would be performing this year. She knew it was meant to be when she saw Gonzalez’s name.

Hugo de Billie, left, who plays Tomás, and Emily Rasmussen, who plays the Library Lady, rehearse a scene from “Tomás & the Library Lady.” The play will open at the NMSU Center for the Arts Friday, Oct. 25. Two additional performances are scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 26. (Photo by Tom Wise)

The storyline is based on the true story of Tomás Rivera, who was the child of migrant workers. He was born in Texas where he primarily lived with his family. Every year, during the right season, the family would go to Iowa to pick beets, corn and spinach.

The play takes place in 1945, right after World War II, when Tomás is 9. It tells the story of how his life is changed by a librarian who teaches him how to read books. Tomás finds a library in Hampton, Iowa, and his relationship with the Library Lady begins.

The books she introduces him to open a whole new world that Tomás could only imagine, literally. The story outline is identical to the original children’s book, but the details are very different.

“Tomás & the Library Lady” hits the stage Oct. 25–26.

Emily Rasmussen, a third-year ASTC member who plays the Library Lady and the Nightmare Teacher, indicated the play is accessible to general audiences. “It’s not as complicated getting into the characters because they are fairly simple since it is for kids. It has been a lot of fun because it is so simple,” Rasmussen said.

The play does address topics that are of current interest and concern in society. “It’s about immigration, it’s about reading, it’s about books, it’s about reaching out and making a difference in people’s lives,” Billings said.

“Tomás & the Library Lady” is a bilingual play that utilizes both English and Spanish along with songs accompanied by a live guitar played by Hugo de Billie, who plays Tomás.

The entire cast is made up of four actors who play seven different characters. “The biggest challenge with this play is how fast it moves. We cover a lot of ground in 45 minutes. The actors have to change character in a split second. We are utilizing projections, lighting and everything the theater can offer,” Billings said.

The resident set designer, Jim Billings, came up with the method of using projections and lighting instead of set pieces to adjust the various settings throughout the play because of the fast pace. “Since [Claudia and I] both love children’s literature, we have had a lot of fun,” Jim Billings said.

NMSU student Daniel Miller designed all of the costumes used in the play.

The play’s target audience is children in kinder through sixth grade, but “it is absolutely for everybody,” Claudia Billings said.

There will be three showings of the play at the NMSU Center for the Arts located on University Avenue at Espina Street. Showtimes are Friday, Oct. 25, at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, Oct. 26, at 1 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Tickets may be purchased at the concession stand on the first floor of the theater one hour before the show starts.

All tickets are $5.  NMSU students do not get in for free and must purchase a ticket. For additional information regarding showtimes and ticket pricing, contact the theatre box office at 575-646-4515.

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