Mandy Heinold wanted a play that would empower her female students.

“I wanted a play that spoke to them and gave them this sense of empowerment – this sense of ‘I can do anything,’” the Victoria East High School theater director said. “I really wanted to do a play that would challenge them to step out of their worlds a little bit.”

“Las Soldaderas” was just that.

The play features an almost all-female cast of high school students and takes place in 1911 during the Mexican Revolution.

It centers on one regiment of women as they explore their reasons for fighting.

“This is all of our story; we have all experienced grief and loss and love, and we can all connect to these stories,” Heinold said. “We just relate to these people.”

The show combines folklorico dance, mariachi music and theater into one unit that celebrates Hispanic culture, Heinold said.

She said although her students haven’t experienced war like the characters in the play, it’s still a story they can still relate to.

“When we share these stories, we become more empathetic to the world and people who have had these experiences,” Heinold said.

She said this story is not a story for women or Hispanic people; rather, it’s a story of the human experience.

With Hispanic Heritage Month nearing a close Oct. 15, Heinold wanted to celebrate with a play that displays a strong Hispanic culture, she said. Many of her students are Hispanic, and she wanted to show that heritage.

“I wanted to tell their stories as well,” she added.

During Thursday’s rehearsal, the cast worked through the last few moments of the play. They worked around partially finished sets in their street clothes, but they were their characters.

Victoria East High School senior Maria Huerta, 17, said the show is empowering to her as a young woman but also for her shared Hispanic culture.

“Most of Victoria is Hispanic, and we wanted to make it alive,” she said.

She said the play is about sisterhood even at the lowest points of human existence. She noted how great it is to see folklorico dance and mariachi bringing the show to life.

Victoria East senior Gracie Lla Gonzales, 17, said the play goes beyond what she has seen before and shows that women are independent.

“It shows that women are strong and they can get through anything,” she said.

Victoria East senior Ryan Gramm, 17, said she grew up in Oklahoma, and she likes being in a place so lush with heritage.

“It’s nice to have my eyes open to all of these beautiful different art forms that I never would have experienced had we not done this show the way that we have,” she said.

At rehearsal, Heinold directed the young female cast and urged them to pull at their emotions. She wanted them to embrace their characters.

“I’m so proud of these students,” Heinold said. “They have not heard these stories before, and we get to this point where I see them onstage, and they are embodying these stories and these women. I get teary-eyed seeing them stand so strong.”

Samantha Douty is the education reporter at the Victoria Advocate. She grew up in Corpus Christi and graduated from UT-Arlington with a bachelor's in journalism.

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