Theater professionals, students, and faculty from several organizations are working behind the scenes to bring the intersection of Latino and LGBTQ+ experiences into the limelight with the development of the new musical “The Boys and the Nuns.”

Leyna Camacho is an actress and fourth-year musical theater student at California State University, Fullerton (CSUF). As a Mexican American, she finds the show to be an inspiring Latino story.

“I would love to see more stories like this being told in the future because it’s touching on two subjects to me that have been very relevant in the past couple of years, as far as my ethnic identity, and of course, gay rights and sexuality,” she says. “I’m really happy that this [production] is coming to fruition.”

The Department of Theatre and Dance at CSUF and the Latiné Musical Theatre Lab, a New York City-based organization that develops and advocates for Latiné-written works of musical theater, partnered on the project. Support comes from CSU Hispanic Serving Institution Community Grants awarded by the Global Hispanic Serving Institution Equity Innovation Hub at CSU, Northridge, and Apple.

Josh Grisetti
Josh Grisetti

Although there is no set timeline, musicals can take 10 years to develop, says Josh Grisetti, assistant professor and head of musical theatre at CSUF.

“The cool thing from a student perspective is that they get to see [the development process] in a way that usually students don’t,” he says.

The story of “The Boys and The Nuns” is one of unexpected allyship. Based on true events set in the Boystown neighborhood of Chicago in 1986, a group of LGBTQ+ activists fight to pass the Gay Rights Ordinance. They band together with a group of Catholic nuns embroiled in their own fight for equal rights in the church. The story centers around a musician named Pablo and is inspired by writer Sandra Delgado’s own Colombian heritage and experience growing up in the same Chicago neighborhood.

Characters play the music using a variety of instruments. Compositions include ’80s pop, a Spanish power ballad, choral music numbers, and Latin freestyle, with music and lyrics by Michael McBride.

The selection of the cast is a mix of CSUF students and those from nearby colleges as well as professional actors. The reading of the script took place during the spring semester. Writers will make revisions over the summer before the production undergoes a workshop in the fall. If approved for a second year of grant funding, the department hopes to fully produce and perform the musical, says Grisetti.

The play would help broaden representation in the industry. In 2021, approximately 29 percent of the 6,000-plus contracts across all job categories reported to the Actors’ Equity Association, a trade union representing American actors and stage managers in theater, were awarded to people of color. 

“[I want] theaters to stop seeing our work as risky and to be allowed to fail,” says Delgado. “It sometimes feels like you get one chance as an artist of color, a marginalized artist, and if you don’t knock it out of the park, you don’t get another chance.”

This article was published in our June 2023 issue.