This spring, Sydni Lapsley got a text from her friend Bethmari Márquez Barreto. It was a picture of Jennifer Lopez and Shakira performing at the Super Bowl halftime show with the words, “La de al lado es compañera, no competencia.” The one next to her is her ally, not a competitor.
“That got me to the core,” Lapsley said. “It defines our relationship very well and how we feel people should support each other in general.”
Though the two senior performing arts majors arrived at Iowa State with different personalities and pursuits, they now easily finish each other’s sentences. Both had a banner year—national and regional recognitions, invitations to festivals in Washington, D.C., and Kansas, and summer job offers in New York City. While COVID-19 postponed those opportunities for now, the friendship they formed in Fisher Theater will last a lifetime.
“We’re so proud of each other and we connect on so many levels on who we are as people and what art means to us,” Lapsley said. “It truly feels like it does matter and that we’re being seen. I couldn’t be happier or luckier to be this driving force with Beth.”
Calm meets confident
Márquez Barreto, who is from Puerto Rico, initially arrived at Iowa State as an animal ecology major prior to pursuing performing arts. She is headstrong, confident, compassionate and always looking at the big picture, Lapsley said.
“Beth is always thinking about what impact does something have, what does it mean to other people,” she said. “She’s always striving to make herself proud and also her family back home and her Puerto Rican family here in Iowa.”
Lapsley, a student from Missouri, is an experienced ISU Theatre stage manager and playwright. Márquez Barreto said she is her unflappable, detail-oriented opposite.
“When Sydni walks in a room, she has this presence that is very captivating and very calm in general,” Márquez Barreto said. “She’s super organized. Even when she thinks her life is a mess, she has a plan.”
A leadership odyssey
Lapsley and Márquez Barreto had been in productions together before. But they paired up for a true partnership during last December’s production of “Anon(ymous).” Directed by College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (LAS) Dean’s Artist-in-Residence Arpita Mukherjee, artistic director of the New York-based Hypokrit Theatre Company, “Anon(ymous)” is a modern-day retelling of Homer’s epic “The Odyssey.”
It was also an epic leadership challenge. During rehearsals, Mukherjee had to return to New York for a week, leaving Lapsley, the stage manager, and Márquez Barreto, assistant director and cast member, in charge. The two spent many late nights at Fisher Theater, constantly discussing rehearsal and production notes to keep the show moving forward.
“We’re so proud of each other and we connect on so many levels on who we are as people and what art means to us.”
“Working with new directors pushes us,” Lapsley said. “They expect the best from us so we strive to give them the best. We want to show them what Iowa State is forming us to be.”
Kennedy Center honors
One month after “Anon(ymous),” both Lapsley and Márquez Barreto gave their best again at the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival (KCACTF), held by Region 5 in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
Márquez Barreto and her scene partner Roger Rivera (’21 advertising) entered KCACTF’s prestigious Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship competition with a big goal: to challenge the competition’s traditional requirements by offering a bilingual scene, thus breaking down assumptions that all audiences speak English.
“Every time Roger and I performed, before we went on stage we would say these three things: We break the system by being in the system, we speak our truth and we tell our stories,” she recalled.
Their three pieces — one that included dialogue in Spanish — landed them as finalists in the top 16 out of 325 pairs and received an overwhelmingly positive response.
“Other people from marginalized communities were like, ‘Wow, seeing someone represent on stage my culture, my background, was very encouraging and empowering,’” Márquez Barreto said.
"We break the system by being in the system, we speak our truth and we tell our stories."
Márquez Barreto also received first place in KCACTF’s Region 5 ASPIRE Arts Leadership Fellowship and an invitation to the National Festival at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. Her trip was postponed until 2021, but she has been meeting virtually with her cohort about making theatre more diverse, inclusive and equitable.
Lapsley’s 10-minute play, “The Papaya Man,” was one of seven plays out of nearly 100 submissions selected to be performed in a staged reading at KCACTF. She wrote the play about a young girl and a fruit vendor during Professor of English Charissa Menefee’s playwriting class.
“I’m so thankful for the opportunity,” she said. “It validated this passion I have for playwriting and it just showed me that people are writing about everything. You should write about anything that comes to your head. Someone will need to hear it and someone wants to hear it.”
The play earned Lapsley KCACTF’s national semi-finalist award and an invitation for a May residency at the William Inge Theatre Festival in Kansas.
Lapsley and Márquez Barreto had planned to spend the summer together in Brooklyn, New York, gaining professional hands-on experience as the stage manager and assistant director for Mukherjee’s production of “Raisins Not Virgins.” Though the opportunity is postponed, Mukherjee is still committed to helping them experience New York theatre in the future.
“The most beautiful thing that we do is help people join our little clan of artistic, creative minds that want stories to be heard, for the unknown to be known, for the underrepresented to be represented and to be a driving force in making the world better.”
Citizen artists like Lapsley and Márquez Barreto will help the arts adapt and lead in uncertain times, said Brad Dell, director of ISU Theatre.
“Bethmari and Sydni are shining examples of citizen artistry in action,” Dell said. “They set new standards, empathize with their community, challenge unjust systems, and excel beyond expectations. Oscar Hammerstein II wrote in ‘The King and I,’ ‘if you become a teacher, by your pupils you’ll be taught.’ I am eternally grateful to be a student of these remarkable and ‘HERoic’ citizen artists!”
Lapsley hopes to bring her stage-managing skills to smaller communities where theatre may not be as prevalent. She compares it to the way ISU Theatre helps draw students from majors across campus.
“The most beautiful thing that we do is help people join our little clan of artistic, creative minds that want stories to be heard, for the unknown to be known, for the underrepresented to be represented and to be a driving force in making the world better,” Lapsley said.
Which sometimes requires creatively turning theatre on its head.
“Nothing I’ve done in ISU Theatre has been normal, but we also need to change what’s considered normal,” Márquez Barreto said.
The two will have at least one more chance to share bold citizen artistry this this coming year, cast fittingly as family—a mother and daughter—in ISU Theatre’s “Of the Deep.”
“I don’t know if anyone else can handle me, and I feel like I’m the only one who can handle Beth,” Lapsley joked.
But maybe, together, they can handle anything.