Ybor Speaks

Centennial Park
Ybor Speaks

an Immersive Sound Installation at Centennial Park and Online

Columbia Liquor

Columbia Liquor

Indian Room

Indian Room

Tampa Electric

Tampa Electric

"Ybor Speaks," is a public art project created to celebrate the immigrant experience in Ybor City – from the boom town of the 1890s through the creative revival of the 1980s. The City of Tampa, Division of Arts & Cultural Affairs commissioned playwright Sheila Cowley and sound designer Matt Cowley to create a sound installation that welcomes you to Ybor City through immersive soundscapes and audio vignettes, and histories and memoirs read aloud. The Cowleys included local talent from the Spanish Lyric Theatre, faculty and students from the University of South Florida School of Theatre and Dance, stage and screen actors based in Tampa Bay, and many residents.

The in-person experience at Centennial Park takes you back in time through a soundscape that’s played throughout the speakers of the park. This soundscape is an aural adventure of horses, trolleys, footsteps, and and the sounds of many different languages that were spoken decades ago, such as Spanish, Italian, Russian, Romanian, Yiddish, English and Vietnamese. The soundscape plays at the top of each hour from 7 a.m. - 5 p.m., every day except Saturday.

This on-line experience provides a deeper look into Ybor’s history by listening to scripted stories and excerpts from books by notable authors.

1890's...New Immigrants

"Cigar Workers Lectores" Tampa: The Treasure City by Tony Pizzo with Gary Mormino, Read by Bonnie Agan

"Lectores" from Once Upon a Time in Tampa: Rise and Fall of the Cigar Industry by Wallace Reyes, Read by Stephanie Roberts

"Street Life" from The Immigrant World of Ybor City: Italians and Their Latin Neighbors in Tampa,1885-1985 by Gary R. Mormino and George E. Pozzetta, Read by David Waterman  

The following audio clip is an original short story written by Sheila Cowley and featuring local actors, JL Rey (Mario) and Mary E. Hughes Gonzalez (Linda). Directed by James Rayfield and Sound Designed by Matthew Cowley.

Synopsis: Linda’s a young woman from Cuba looking for work as a cigar roller. Mario’s a streetcar driver fresh from Spain who gives her a surprising tour of Ybor City’s busy factories, bustling social clubs and fiery support for the Cuban revolution.

Voices in the street are speaking Spanish, Romanian, Russian, a bit of Italian and fleeting moments of English. We hear a Yiddish lullaby, a lector reading Don Quixote in Spanish to the cigar workers, and Black Cuban activist Paulina Pedroso rallying a crowd. Two recent immigrants, Rita and Florinda, are thrilled to make it to Ybor.

Original story written by Sheila Cowley, featuring local actors, JL Rey (Mario) and Mary E. Hughes Gonzalez (Linda). Directed by James Rayfield and Sound Designed by Matthew Cowley.

1920's...Ybor's Heyday

Mario’s family came from Italy – he’s the first to go to college, thanks to his dad getting work as a bootlegger. On a quick trip home he marvels at the cars on 7th Avenue as Linda, a Romanian Jewish woman whose family has a shop on 7th, assures him that rumors of “air conditioning” are true at Tampa Theatre. 

We hear the calls of strolling vendors selling collards, devil crab, fish, piruli candy and furtive bolita bets. The voices on the street are speaking Spanish, Italian, English and Romanian, while a lector now reads Don Quixote in English to the cigar workers. Rita and Florinda chide Mario for sitting too close to Linda, then order devil crabs through the streetcar window. 

This is an original story written by Sheila Cowley and featuring local actors, JL Rey (Mario) and Mary E. Hughes Gonzalez (Linda). Directed by James Rayfield and Sound Designed by Matthew Cowley. 

Audio Vignette

Listen to Audio Book Highlights! These book excerpts provide descriptions of bolita betting, strolling merchants and Ybor neighbors from books by Jack Espinosa, Scott Dietche and Wallace Reyes PhD.


"Bolita" from Cigar City Mafia by Scott M. Deitche, Read by David Waterman

"Charlie Wall" from Cigar City Mafia by Scott M. Deitche, Read by David Waterman 

"Neighbors" from Cuban Bread Crumbs by Jack Espinosa, Read by Mary Rachel Quinn 

“Ybor Merchants” from Once Upon a Time in Tampa: Rise and Fall of the Cigar Industry by Wallace Reyes, Read by Stephanie Roberts 

1940's...WWII

Mario’s grandparents came from Italy – he’s in Ybor City for one day before he ships out to fight in Europe. He’s hiding his Italian heritage, pretending that he’s Cuban to slip off to Ybor and find an Italian restaurant. On the streetcar, he sits next to Linda, a Spanish-Cuban-Romanian woman working at the nearby shipyards. The restaurant is closed, but she invites him home for Sunday lunch, and to an Ybor baseball game.

Almost all the voices in the street are speaking English. We hear the echo of a Yiddish lullaby. Rita and Florinda are cigar rollers, enjoying their wares and offering the soldier a cigar.

This is an original story written by Sheila Cowley and featuring local actors, JL Rey (Mario) and Mary E. Hughes Gonzalez (Linda). Directed by James Rayfield and Sound Designed by Matthew Cowley.

Listen to Audio Book Highlights!  These audio book excerpts by Ferdie Pacheco, Jack Espinosa, Gary Mormino and George E. Pozzetta, go into Ybor streetcars, Cuban bread, baseball and the vivid scents of Ybor from books.


"Cuban Bread" from Cuban Bread Crumbs by Jack Espinosa, Read by Mary Rachel Quinn

“Streetcars” from Ybor City Chronicles: A Memoir by Ferdie Pacheco, Read by David Waterman  

“Smells of Ybor” from Ybor City Chronicles: A Memoir by Ferdie Pacheco, Read by David Waterman

Immersive WWII Soundscape

1980's...Artist and Writers

Linda’s an artist, about to move to an abandoned Ybor storefront. She and Mario are lost in the chaos of the Gasparilla Night Parade, searching for the Artists and Writers Ball. Mario doesn’t know why anyone would live in Ybor City, but they both know it’s not easy to be gay in Palma Ceia in the ‘80s. All they know of Ybor is not really listening to their parents and grandparents’ stories.  

We hear a street singer, a street poet, partying artists, rowdy pirates from the Gasparilla floats – and as Ybor quiets down again, Rita and Florinda are cops wrangling traffic and speaking Spanish, lighting an Ybor cigar as the voices of current USF students greet you in many languages.  

This is an original story written by Sheila Cowley and featuring local actors, JL Rey (Mario) and Mary E. Hughes Gonzalez (Linda). Directed by James Rayfield and Sound Designed by Matthew Cowley. 

Listen to Audio Book Highlights! Hear stories of the neighborhood’s artistic revival in the 1980s from a book by Paul Wilborn. 


 

"Quarter Moon" from Cigar City: Tales from a 1980s Creative Ghetto by Paul Wilborn, Read by Eugenie Bondurant 

"Apprentice" from Cigar City: Tales from a 1980s Creative Ghetto by Paul Wilborn, Read by Eugenie Bondurant 


Updated: 11/30/2022