Anna Skidis wanted to honor her heritage through her talents and passion about the arts.
She has formed Theatre Nuevo, a company for new works and Latino theater.
“The hope is to blur the lines between the different elements of the arts, and to give a voice to a community that isn’t often afforded one,” Skidis said. “We are committed to professional work by local artists.”
Skidis was born and raised in Fairview Heights, graduated from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville with a bachelor’s degree in theater performance, and has appeared on professional St. Louis stages with New Line, Stray Dog, Mustard Seed and New Jewish Theatres, R-S Theatrics and Dramatic License Productions.
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“There are very few roles for Latino actors, and zero onstage representation when it comes to Latino plays. No one is doing them. Maybe it’s due to not understanding or identifying with the work, but it certainly isn’t because there isn’t a Hispanic presence. We’re definitely here, and we want our stories told, too,” she said.
Skidis started her inaugural production, “This Is Not Funny” last weekend and it continues Thursday through Sunday evenings.
“This play is very near and dear to my heart,” she said. “The show itself has been workshopped a few times, with humble beginnings at SIUE’s X-Fest, an experimental theater festival, and Stray Dog Theatre’s New Works Laboratory. I always said when Theatre Nuevo comes to be, this will be our first show.”
The play is a comedic exploration of whether or not you can keep your childhood innocence as you get older. It’s a series of vignettes based upon real-life news stories,” she said.
It was inspired by a photograph of a child running through a war-torn countryside, holding a bouquet of balloons, and a short cartoon called “Billy’s Balloons” by Donald Hertzfeldt.
The characters include a poet, a clown, two children, and two newscasters.
“Also, balloons, lots of balloons. But don’t let the balloons and bright colors fool you — this is for mature audiences only,” she said.
She grew up in what she describes as a typical “Grexican” family.
“Mom is from Mexico, and Dad is half Greek. I grew up with awesome music, great traditions, and a lot of rice and round breads,” she said.
“My family is also super supportive. You’ll be able to tell if you ever sit next to my mother at any of my shows. She’ll tell you exactly which one up there is her baby — even if you didn’t ask. Not a play goes by where you won’t find my parents, granny, the great-aunt I’m named after, sister, and brother-in-law in attendance,” she said.
Home is where her enthusiasm for the arts began. She put on a lip-synched version of Disney’s “Aladdin,” playing the title role because “he and I had the same haircut.”
Along with her sister and friends, they served Tang and popcorn as refreshments, and charged a nickel for admission.
After that first production, she subjected her family to impressions and an operetta in fourth grade.
“I’m incredibly blessed to have the family that I do. My parents worked hard to make sure that my sister and I had all of the opportunities we possibly could. We also have a granny that constantly helped chauffeur us to and from show choir, karate, and our various theater ventures and music lessons,” she said.
She began acting in community theater at age 11, making her debut as a Munchkin in “The Wizard of Oz” at the Miner’s Theatre in Collinsville. Her dad and sister were in it, too. She performed in high school plays and musicals, and a lot more community theater.
Her first professional job was in “Evil Dead: the Musical” at Stray Dog Theatre in 2010. This fall, she can be seen as Veronica in “Heathers” at New Line Theatre. She won a St. Louis Theater Circle Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Musical as Ilse in “Spring Awakening” at Stray Dog in 2012.
By drawing on her friends and colleagues in the theatrical community, she was able to launch a company, which she has wanted to do for a long time.
“There is an amazing amount of support within our theater community. The challenges Theatre Nuevo has faced so far have already been faced by countless other companies, and the advice of my fellow artists is invaluable. Our community is so full of intelligence and generosity, and they make this all much easier,” she said.
She credits her artistic associate, assistant director and stage manager Gabe Taylor as the go-to wingman.
“He is maybe the most patient and helpful human being on the planet,” she said.
The biggest challenge they face is lack of funding.
“We are completely dependent on ticket sales and donations.”
Theatre Nuevo has a few projects in the works. Next up is a series of new, 10-minute plays called “Orgullo: A Pride of One Acts,” which will be a bilingual production. Latino pride is the central theme. Submissions from around the country are encouraged, and the deadline is Aug. 3. More details are available on the website.
“I love new works, and I especially love devised theatre. It is my absolute favorite way to work. I feel actors and other production staff are often underutilized when it comes to theater,” she said.
I think sometimes we take for granted the brilliant minds in the room with us. They have so much creativity to give, and are so much smarter than I would be if I were to have to write something on my own,” she said.
“There are also some very talented playwrights in the area, and it would be wonderful to give them another way to get their work out there. We’re lucky to have already had a few other companies jump in on that with staged readings and workshops, but our community can always use a few more opportunities,” she said.