(Ian Frazier’s article appeared in The New Yorker, 12/7.)
Alizah Olivo is eight years old and lives in the South Bronx. Her father, Nelson, works as the maintenance supervisor at a homeless shelter, and her mother, Carmen, registers admittances in an emergency room. Alizah has three brothers and one sister; she is the second youngest. The family’s apartment is on the fourth floor of a recently constructed apartment building on Washington Avenue, in the Morrisania section. On the building’s first and basement levels is the DreamYard Project, the largest arts organization in the Bronx.
In 2013, the Olivos noticed a sign in the building’s lobby asking people to try out for parts in a production of “The Tempest.” The invitation came from the Public Theatre’s Public Works program, which puts on plays in Central Park in the summer, and from the director Lear deBessonet, who believes in theatre for the people and uses casts of hundreds in her shows. She finds the hundreds mostly through community-based organizations like DreamYard. Nelson Olivo had been a dancer and a street musician, and he wanted his family to get a taste of performing. He and Alizah and one of her brothers tried out for the play, and they all got parts. Alizah was six.