St. Augustine’s signature play, “Cross and Sword,” is getting a revival in a Texas theater by a man who grew up watching the production.
But he’s getting a little local help to make the show happen.
St. Augustine resident Michelle Reyna pulled pieces of clothing from racks inside of a storage building in downtown St. Augustine on Thursday, waiting for the Texas theater officials to arrive to pick up some of the items for their play.
“A lot of these costumes are the original [“Cross and Sword”] costumes,” she said. “Now, we’ve added to it over the years, but I think for them to come this far to gather up this wardrobe and take it back with them is pretty amazing.”
The play, which tells the story of Pedro Menendez establishing St. Augustine, ran from 1965 at the St. Augustine Amphitheatre until the 1990s — officials built the amphitheater for the city’s 400th anniversary and to showcase the play.
The city had the collection of props and clothes in storage, which people added to with items from other events. Eventually, all the items were put under the care of St. Augustine’s Sister Cities group, Reyna said.
Reyna, a member of the group, moved the items from her garage to the storage unit. The collection includes a wide array of costumes such French Huguenot attire, puffy shorts, padded shirts for sword-fighting scenes, dresses, painted banners and giant paper mache heads. There are about 200 to 300 items in the collection, Reyna said.
Re-enactors typically aren’t interested in using the clothes because they have things like Velcro, items that aren’t appropriate for a costume designed to resemble 1500s attire. But the clothes work onstage, and Reyna said she’d been hoping that a theater group might want to use them.
That hope became reality, by chance, when a contact of Reyna’s referred Chris Ikner to her.
Ikner is the artistic director at the Camille Playhouse in Brownsville, a city in Texas’ southern tip. “Cross and Sword” will be shown at the playhouse from Jan. 26-28 and Feb. 2-4, Ikner said.
Ikner and the theater’s managing director, Zach Stutts, pulled up in a moving truck Thursday afternoon and came inside to get their first glimpse of the collection. Ikner said they’d driven from Texas and then to Georgia and to St. Augustine, about 23 hours in all.
“This is amazing,” Ikner said as he talked with Reyna next to a rack of clothes.
“You have no idea,” Reyna said. “I fought to preserve this stuff for years.”
Ikner said the show is close to his heart. From 4 to 22 years old, he vacationed in St. Augustine with his family during the summers, he said. Watching “Cross and Sword” was part of his experience.
“Seriously, it’s one of my very first memories of theater in my whole life,” he said. “It’s what gave me the bug when I was little, and I knew this is what I wanted to do.”
He said he’s always loved history and theater in part because of the storytelling. He has a degree in musical theater from New York University, and he’s also taught theater and history, he said.
Getting “Cross and Sword” on a Texas stage came about as somewhat of an accident. Another historical play that had been planned for January ran into issues, and the theater needed a replacement, Ikner said.
He thought of “Cross and Sword,” which will run around the time of the area’s Hispanic heritage celebration.
“I thought what better thing to do than celebrate that with the first Spanish settlement in the U.S. and that history,” he said.
Ikner expressed his gratitude to the community members who were part of the production, and for being able to use the clothes. Reyna said the clothes and other items will be returned to St. Augustine after the production. But for now she’s happy to see them heading back onstage.
“It has a purpose again, an original purpose,” she said.