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Northwestern’s Imagine U presents ‘Tomás and the Library Lady’

Play inspires with the story of Tomás Rivera, a first-generation student who paved the way as first BIPOC chancellor in California

Tomás and the Carnegie Library
Tomás discovers the Carnegie Library in Imagine U’s “Tomás and the Library Lady.” Photo by Justin Barbin.

A 9-year-old boy overcomes challenges of being an outsider in the classroom in “Tomás and the Library Lady,” a play for young audiences based on the true story of American educational leader and author Tomás Rivera.

The Wirtz Center for the Performing Arts at Northwestern University presents Imagine U’s “Tomás and the Library Lady,” filmed and available for weekend streaming between March 12 and 28.

The play by José Cruz Gonzáles is adapted from Pat Mora’s award-winning children’s book, which shares Rivera’s experiences as the son of Mexican migrant workers and a first-generation student in the American education system. The bilingual production includes dialogue and songs in both English and Spanish and is recommended for children aged 5-12.

“It's important for us to acknowledge the giants of all cultures and backgrounds who have paved the way,” said Ismael Lara, the production’s director and an MFA directing candidate at Northwestern’s School of Communication. “Tomás Rivera was a Chicano who achieved many ‘firsts’ and we must honor him and thank him for dreaming of the future for the Latinx community,” said Lara.

Set in Iowa in 1945, young Tomás Rivera struggles to read and speak English and fit in at school. But with the help of a kindly librarian and the power of imagination and curiosity, he overcomes his fears and realizes his passion for reading and writing, enabling him to rewrite his own story.

Tomás likely never imagined he would someday become chancellor at University of California-Riverside and the first minority in that post in the UC system. Nor did he foresee that UC-Riverside would have a library named for him and an annual conference honoring his work as a writer and educator.

The production is the Wirtz Center’s first since the pandemic began, to bring actors, costumes and set together on the stage to be filmed for streaming by audiences. Until now, productions have been produced almost entirely virtually.

The production includes puppets made from cardboard for all characters other than Tomás and the Library Lady. The puppets and costumes were designed by Meeka Postman, an MFA stage design candidate at the School of Communication.

Related online event:

“Tomás and the Library Lady” Party
Feb. 27, 11 a.m.

Evanston Public Library will host an online preview party, which includes scenes and music from the play, and participatory acting classes and a craft. More information and the link to reservations is available on the library website.

Performances of “Tomas and the Library Lady”

The estimated running time of the performance is one hour. Household admission to stream Imagine U’s “Tomás and the Library Lady” is $20 per child and adult. Audiences can choose from three weekend blocks: March 12-14; March 19-21; or March 26-28.

Admission for Northwestern students is free with a valid NU email address by filling out this required registration form.

For reservations and more information, visit the Wirtz Center website.

The Wirtz Center is a member of the Northwestern Arts Circle, which brings together film, humanities, literary arts, music, theatre, dance and visual arts.

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