Y No Había Luz theater company empowers community members to be sentinels of Mother Earth

Y No Había Luz theater
Y No Había Luz theater company member, Yussef Soto Villarini, teaches teenage community members how to create paper puppets.

By Juntang (Nancy) Qian
Medill Reports

Y No Había Luz is a Puerto Rican theater company founded 18 years ago by seven college students to experiment with the creative power of theatrical art. As theater members explored visual and narrative storytelling, they discovered the importance of inviting their communities to be part of the art and performance.


As night falls, teenagers and their parents gather in the Y No Había Luz theater. They are here to prepare for a new semester of workshops organized by Y No Había Luz members specifically for teenagers.

Y No Había Luz, a Puerto Rican theater company, was founded 18 years ago by seven college students. They hoped to empower Puerto Rican communities through theatrical performances and workshops.

After Hurricane Maria, they created their most recent play, “The Mango Tree Sentinel.” The play was inspired by an ancient tree knocked down by the hurricane in Puerto Rican town Orocovis. It tells a fable about Puerto Ricans spreading across the globe but continues being sentinels for the island.

The play symbolizes a big transition for Y No Había Luz. In the past, the theater company used mainly music to accompany their interactive performances with masks and puppets. “The Mango Tree Sentinel” is their first try on using spoken words to tell stories and interact with audiences during performances.

Yussef Soto Villarini, Y No Había Luz actor: The narration helps us to invite the people to tell their stories.

The exchange of experiences and insights between company members and community audiences motivates Y No Había Luz to continue hosting theatrical workshops around the island. And recently, the company has been inviting more youths to their storytelling to help the next generation better understand challenges Puerto Rico faces.

Yari Helfeld, Y No Había Luz Actress: Maybe you can’t change the world from one day to another, but your day by day can be different and we can have different results.

The theater company is also collaborating with the Institute of The New School to tour “The Mango Tree Sentinel” in 20 Montessori schools around the island. As company members show respect to how the students create, think and imagine, they receive heartwarming responses in return.

Francisco Iglesias, Y No Había Luz actor: The eyes, the eyes of the children express their soul. When we go to the community, they are shy. And when we finish the presentation or the workshop, their face is amazing, is changing.

After performing for the students, Y No Había Luz also hosts workshops for the teachers. They supply the schools with illustrative books created based on “The Mango Tree Sentinel” and share with the teachers ways to use this book in classes.

Yari Helfeld, Y No Había Luz actress: This is beautiful because in a way I think it is our possibility to really connect with the students. And they really know about the book and about our work, so it’s more deep. It’s a more specific program.

Y No Había Luz is making small impacts day by day. In the near future, they hope to move away from the rented space in San Juan and move into the mountains. There, they can truly combine theatrical art and the beauty of the environment. And continue motivating community members to be sentinels of their mother earth.

In San Juan, Nancy Qian, Medill Reports.

Juntang (Nancy) Qian is a Northwestern University senior double majoring in journalism and psychology and minoring in art theory and practice. She loves creating art, using metaphors, listening to R&B music, dancing, collecting exhibition tickets and watching sunsets.