Fresh off the success of last season's "Miami Motel Stories," playwright Juan C. Sanchez and Juggerknot Theatre Company are back with its latest immersive theatre experience, "Wynwood Stories," directed by Tai Thompson.
In conjunction with Della Heiman, creator of The Wynwood Yard (56 NW 29th St.) "Wynwood Stories," is a site-specific piece running through May 4, at the Yard during its final month before it transitions to Doral Yard.
"We're telling the history of this neighborhood," says Sanchez. "All the characters come from historical research. I did a lot of reading and conducted a lot of interviews to get a sense of how the neighborhood evolved over time."
Sanchez's talent lies in illuminating and giving a voice and presence to those diverse and divergent archetypal characters that left their imprint on the area. He sets out to tell the stories of Wynwood's past, present and future.
"Our goal in recounting these stories is to come in as a neutral party without an opinion," says Juggerknot Theatre executive director Tanya Bravo. "It's important for us as an organization to give these people a voice and to remember them and their contributions."
Working with History Miami and local activists, developers, artists, residents and shop owners, Sanchez creates 11 unique composite stories – including that of a gallery owner, Cuban seamstress, real estate developer and graffiti artist - based on real-life residents from Wynwood's inception.
Founded in 1917 by Josiah Chaille and Hugh Anderson, the neighborhood, mostly farmland, and called Wyndwood Park, was home to lower middle-class families who worked at the neighborhood's commercial businesses, including the Coca-Cola bottling plant and Merita Bread.
By the mid-1950s, Wynwood became a thriving garment center along NW 5th Ave. between NW 22 and NW 29 St., and home to a large Puerto Rican community, known as Little San Juan.
PaulS.George, Ph.D., Professor of History, at Miami-Dade College who gives bike and walking tours of Wynwood, finds the area north of 29th St. of particular interest.
"Many people may not realize how entrenched the Puerto Rican neighborhood was," George says. "The residents, mostly working class, came from New York and from Puerto Rico directly. You can still see elementary schools and streets named for Puerto Rican leaders."
"What Juan is doing is amalgamating all the characters who called Wynwood home at one time or another and providing a deeper look into the area, giving it a real sense of place," he says.
The sixties brought The Miami Riots, artist-run spaces, such as The Bakehouse as well as street and graffiti artists.
The gradual gentrification continued and culminated in an area with a diverse mix of bars, restaurants, clubs, and of course, the street murals which put Wynwood on the map, thanks in part to the foresight of developer Tony Goldman, who envisioned Wynwood as an open air canvas.
Sanchez interviewed a number of the original street artists including Skott "Rage" Johnson of the street art collective, Inkheads, legendary graffiti artist Crome and Miami Puerto Rican street artist Trek6 (Oscar Montes).
Sanchez, who grew up in Miami, says he was surprised to learn about the impact of the street and graffiti artists in Wynwood.
"Just discovering the history of the neighborhood was enlightening to me," he said. "Learning about the culture of the graffiti artists and the art itself gave me a clear understanding of who and what they are. I gained a real insight into the culture, the community and the politics behind that subculture."
Not just recounting individual stories, Sanchez's goal is to find the commonalties between divergent groups of people, shed a light on the way they live and toil and struggle and dream in a place of shared experience.
After Wynwood, Sanchez will turn his discerning gaze onto two other historic Miami neighborhoods: North Miami and Overtown.
"I hope audiences enjoy the show and leave understanding more about the history of Wynwood, the people who have contributed to the city, and how we are all connected," Sanchez says. "I hope we're able to give credit where credit is due and understand each other's point of view."
"Wynwood Stories" runs from April 16 through May 4 at the Wynwood Yard, 56 NW 29th St., Miami; thewynwoodyard.com. Tickets cost $75. Go to www.thewynwoodstories.com for information.