Big Easy Troupe in Fringe Fest: Show Must Go On
Hurricane Katrina coverage in the Philadelphia Daily News from 9.1.05:
Richele Pitalo has no idea if her family is fine or whether her home is intact.
She fears for her 82-year-old grandparents, but she can't get a phone call through to her family in Biloxi, Miss.
They live on the beach, right in the heart of the destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina.
"My family doesn't leave because of hurricanes," the Biloxi native said yesterday. "It's just a part of our world down there."
And now Pitalo is too busy to constantly fret.
She and the eight other members of the New Orleans-based performance troupe EgoPo are frantically preparing for their opening production tomorrow of "The Maids X 2" as part of the Philadelphia Fringe Festival.
"That's the greatest thing that's going to give us purpose now," said Pitalo, an actress in the show. "I can't cry anymore."
Each of the troupe members faces an uncertain future: They don't know about their jobs, their homes or about their friends and families back in the battered region.
Stage manager Alejandra Cejudo left behind a sister who couldn't get out of Mobile, Ala., and an aunt and uncle in Pascagoula, Miss., about an hour away from Biloxi.
"They live on the beach," said Cejudo, a Dallas native who has been living in New Orleans for the past five years.
"They evacuated everyone, but I heard that every house on that beachfront is completely gone."
Cejudo tried to leave New Orleans on Sunday before the storm but got caught in the giant traffic jam of people fleeing the city. By the time she arrived at the New Orleans airport, she missed her flight to Philadelphia.
"So I drove 10 hours to Dallas and flew from there," she said.
Troupe members started staggering into Philadelphia last Friday. The final member arrived last night, after being routed through Memphis.
The group is staying in far-off New Hope because someone offered them a free place to stay. It is a nonprofit organization operating on a tight budget.
None of the performers is paid for his work. And all of them are reluctant to spend money because their regular jobs in New Orleans may have washed away.
"We're refugees," said Nick Lopez, an actor and production manager.
The troupe is considering holding a benefit performance to raise money.
It already is scheduled to do 10 shows of Jean Genet's 1949 psychological drama about surviving oppression.
Tickets are $15, and they include a bottle of Abita beer and a bag of chips straight from Louisiana. During intermission, the troupe offers a jambalaya dinner at an additional cost.
You can buy tickets, or make donations, at egopo.org or by calling 215-413-1318.
At the end of the festival on Sept. 17, troupe members are supposed to return to New Orleans. But they don't know what they will find when they get there.
Associate producer Erica Centurion is hoping for the best.
"I made sure all my friends were leaving before the hurricane," she said. "I pulled my bed away from the window and I took my laptop."
Centurion said her second-floor apartment should be fairly untouched.
"I have two plants that are probably dead," she said.