NEW YORK, NY – May 31, 2016 – (HISPANICIZE WIRE) – The New York based ensemble cast comprised of Nettles Artists Collective (NAC) and playwright and artist Tathi Piancastelli have been awarded a 2016 Brazilian International Press Award for achievement in theater for Apple of My Eye (AOME), also known as Menina dos Meus Olhos. NAC, a collective of Latino immigrant artists lead by Debora Balardini and Sandie Luna, had an outpouring of support on its Facebook page after the nomination announcement.

Under the guidance and leadership of Balardini and Luna, NAC has been especially proud to spark the topic of inclusion in the arts as the only Latina­run physical theater company in New York City and to take it to a global stage. As popular votes accumulated during its nomination period, NAC and Piancastelli further sparked the topic of inclusion in the arts by presenting a segment of Apple of My Eye/Menina dos Meus Olhos in support of ending violence against children and adolescents with disabilities at UNICEF on March 21, World Down Syndrome Day.

The play, under Luna’s artistic concept as Production Designer, is a deceivingly simplistic looking fairy tale exploring the dark themes of exploitation, power and normality. Luna, a Dominican Afro­Latina, comments on breaking down stereotypes through art: “Apple of My Eye is a perfect example of the role of the arts in deepening dialogue around often unspoken issues. Often we know there’s a pink elephant in the room, but until a piece of art brings it to life, it remains mute, static. Art has the power to shift the status quo fairly quickly and, in matters such as inclusion, make a difference swiftly and effectively. Nettles Artists Collective recognizes that power and seizes it with projects such as AOME.”

Balardini, who directed AOME, speaks on the importance of empowering Latinas in the arts: “Not only are we creating a mark within artistic entrepreneurship but we are also including the unheard voices of Latinas such as Tathi, who are differently abled, that otherwise would not be included in the spectrum of what we call ‘normal.’ We celebrate differences and inclusion in the arts as a basic but essential step to make changes in our society. Beyond the accomplishment of this play, Sandie and I, in particular, continue to learn how important it is for Latin Americans to embrace one another with camaraderie as family, both personally and professionally. I am as influenced by my Brazilian culture as Sandie is with her Dominican culture, and now, we are each impacted by what the other brings to the cultural and creative table.”

Long time friends, Balardini and Luna, who have operated NAC for ten years and also co­founded an event venue in NYC together, forge leadership in the arts, in part, by disrupting the perceived differences between the Brazilian and Spanish­ speaking communities. While they continue to amplify inclusion in the arts, it remains highly important to them to also close the Latin American gap by celebrating cultural differences and reimagining the relationship between Spanish­speaking countries and Brazil.

NAC is currently a resident theater and artist group at PUNTO Space, which has been a creative home for Tathiana and the AOME ensemble. Its production partner, MetaSocial, enthusiastically supports AOME’s promotion of inclusion. The play is slated to tour Brazil and Europe in 2016.


— Bella: Tathi Piancastelli

— Il Corvo: Connor Dylan

— Carmelita: Andressa Furletti

— Alemão: Sandro Isaack

— Totó: Ibsen Santos

— Leo: Jaime Puerta

— Juju: Carolina Ravassa

— Mano: Fabio Costaprado

— Eduardo: Braulio Cruz

— Ana Alice: Sandie Luna

— Bruno: Cacá Macedo

About Apple of My Eye/Menina dos Meus Olhos
“Apple of My Eye” is a multi­media physical theater piece performed by the NAC ensemble and written by Piancastelli, a New York based Brazilian actress and artist with Down syndrome. Piancastelli plays the lead protagonist, Bella, a young woman who, because of her differences, is the catalyst for social acceptance and bridging the gap between love and fear. The play is the first professionally produced piece of its kind. “Apple of My Eye”/”Menina dos Meus Olhos” director Debora Balardini first discovered Piancastelli’s work in 2012. Balardini developed the piece with her creative and long­time business partner Sandie Luna, who also has a supporting role, and worked closely with Piancastelli and the cast using experimental vocal techniques, video and movement to design the production and narrative.

Nettles Artists Collective, Producer (
Nettles Artists Collective (NAC), founded by Debora Balardini and Sandie Luna, is a New York based group of immigrant artists, performers, and producers with a mission to imbue the American performing arts scene with authentic global voices and universal vision. The collective carries a commitment to diversify the U.S. audience through the donations of tickets to people that would not otherwise have access to, or be exposed to, theater. For ten years NAC has worked to create an approach to theater that is transparent, permeable and constantly changing. Instead of fighting against prejudice, they celebrate differences. NAC is currently a resident at PUNTO Space.

About Debora Balardini (
With 30 years of unwavering commitment to the arts, expression and movement Debora Balardini (La Fronteira ­ The Border) has traveled beyond craft to her calling as a performer, educator, director and producer globally. Debora Balardini is co­founder of PUNTO, Co­founder and Co­Artistic Director of Nettles Artists Collective and co­founder and Executive Director of Group.BR. Debora is the director and co­producer of award-winning play directed and Apple of My Eye, recently accepting a Brazilian International Press Award to the multi­media physical theater piece. Debora is a theater director and producer, an artist, a teacher with an extensive dance background in ballet, jazz, and tap as well as Hatha yoga.

About Sandie Luna (
Sandie Luna is the co­founder of Nettles Artists Collective and Director of Business Development of PUNTO Space. In 2015 Sandie was recognized by the Dominican American National Foundation for her contribution to the positive artistic representation of her culture. Sandie is an Afro­Latina actress, mover, director and producer having performed in TV, radio, commercials, and theater productions for the English and Spanish markets, including the Off­ Broadway hit Platanos & Collard Greens for four years. Sandie is the conceptual production designer of award-winning play Apple of My Eye and currently has a supporting role.

Tathi Piancastelli, Playwright/Actress:
Born in São Paulo, Brazil, Tathana Piancastelli is an actress, activist and TV presenter. She began her career in the performing arts after studying theater in Campinas, Brazil, from 2003 to 2010. She has appeared in several plays, including “Golden Mouth,” “A Man’s a Man,” “Flare Stars” and the musical “Grease” as well as commercials for GloboTV and EPTV. She was Brazil’s representative at the 2010 International Down Syndrome Day at the United Nations. She currently hosts the program “To Be Different” in conjunction with the nonprofit MetaSocial Institute.

MetaSocial Institute, Producer (
MetaSocial Institute has worked for over 20 years developing programs to promote social inclusion in the media. The group’s goal is to show a positive, cheerful and colorful representation of all people, regardless of their limitations, with the belief that all people have the same human value and therefore deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. MetaSocial is a nonprofit organization that works primarily through partnerships.