Men in Uniform

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BY JENNIFER KILBOURNE

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Antonio Garza is no stranger to adaptation. In his one-man show, Men in Uniform, he tells about his experiences as a young Mexican-American moving between the two countries, which became more difficult with the onset of post-9/11 border anxiety. He has performed the show across the country and in Europe, modifying it for audiences ranging from other border natives to Parisians.

His newest project, taking Men in Uniform on tour across Arizona by bicycle, is currently undergoing its own set of changes. Garza was injured in a car accident earlier this month, but with the support of New Orleans Fringe, his show will go on. Before he sets off, Garza will perform Men in Uniform in the Shadowbox Theatre (2400 St. Claude Ave., 523-7469; www.theshadowboxtheatre.com) at 8 p.m. Friday, June 25.

“The show looks at how the second arrest affected certain aspects of my life, especially my relationship with my mother and friends,” says Garza, who has been wrongfully detained twice by officers who suspected him of being in the United States illegally. Alternately funny and moving, the play explores what shifting political climates mean for immigration regulation, and who gets to decide which people belong where.

The tour originally was set to be finished by August, when Arizona Senate bill 1070 — which orders law enforcement officers to detain anyone they suspect of being an illegal immigrant — goes into effect in that state. Because of the accident (Garza now wears a neck brace, limps slightly and suffers back pain), he will still be pedaling when it does. Critics have decried the law as racial profiling, but Garza is optimistic he won't have any more run-ins with police.

“After 9/11, I think there’s a way racial profiling became kind of normative and OK. Half the country tends to think it’s disgusting," he says. "I also want to perform for people who think the law’s OK. At the same time, I want to quietly observe.”

With average temperatures in July ranging from 81 degrees to 106 degrees in Arizona and a packed schedule of performances and cycling stints, Garza now needs to rest, recover and train. While he waits for doctors’ permission to begin training again, he’s working with a New Orleans shop to build a bike that will accommodate his physical limitations. His injuries are likely to force him to stop more frequently than he originally planned, but Garza says that will give him more opportunities to interact with Arizonans.

“When you come into town with just a bicycle, it kind of sparks conversation, and I expect to have intimate conversations with people,” he says. Garza will document his travel experiences on his blog, www.antoniogarza.blogspot.com.

“That’s so Fringe-y, to take the show out to where it really gets you in the gut,” says Kristen Evans, co-founder of New Orleans Fringe. The Fringe’s relationship with Garza dates back to 2008, when he performed Men in Uniform at the first Fringe Festival, now a yearly celebration of avant-garde art.

As the festival grew in 2009, the founders decided to expand their operation. “We sat down and asked ourselves, ‘How can we nurture the arts in a more powerful way?’” Evans says. Two key projects came out of that brainstorm: a year-round program of performances and workshops called the Fringe Alternative Theater Incubator (FATI), and a commitment to diversifying the face of theater in New Orleans. FATI now offers tickets at reduced prices to underserved communities and holds events all over the city. The Fringe also is taking steps to diversify its lineup by having a panel of 12 artists review each submission to the Fringe Festival with the goal of creating a line up of high-quality pieces and performers who reflect New Orleans’ population. So when Evans found out about Garza’s plan to take his play about discrimination on a road trip to Arizona just as the new law was going into effect, she knew it was something the Fringe could get behind.

FATI is sponsoring Friday’s performance of Men in Uniform, which also will feature jambalaya tacos and Cuba libres. Proceeds from the event will pay for tires and Powerbars during Garza’s trip. He plans to donate any extra money he raises to a charity along his route.

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