Launching a New Platform for Latino/a Theatre

The Fountain Theatre is dedicated to producing new plays that reflect the cultural diversity of Los Angeles and the the nation. To serve Latino/a audiences, we launched our 2012-13 season  earlier this year with the West Coast Premiere of El Nogalar by Latina playwright Tanya Saracho.

“El Nogalar” (2012, Fountain Theatre)

Playwright Anne Garcia-Romero reports on the current state of Latino/a theater and the dream of creating a Latino/a Theatre Commons:

by Anne Garcia-Romero

Anne Garcia-Romero

In May 2012, Karen Zacarías, a playwright in residence at Arena Stage asked the Center for the Theater Commons to host an intimate conversation about the state of theater for U.S. Latino/a artists. A group of us met in D.C. It was a small gathering of theater artists from across the country representing diverse voices, but in no way intended to be representative of the breadth of the Latino/a theater scene. In the twenty-four stretch of the gathering, we talked about community, history, and action. We dreamed up a plan.

Celebrating Contemporary Latino/a Theater
Theater can function as a reflection of our contemporary national narrative. The character journeys on a stage often help us better understand the complexities of our society. U.S. culture in the twenty-first century continues to move from a mono-cultural to a multi-cultural experience. However, U.S. theater currently does not always reflect this reality and therefore can perpetuate an outdated narrative. Contemporary Latino/a theater updates the U.S. narrative through presenting diverse cultural worlds that allow theater audiences to more fully understand the U.S. experience in the twenty-first century.

In 2012, Latino/a is a heterogeneous term that includes the diversity of all Spanish-speaking and indigenous cultures existing in the U.S. from Mexico, the Caribbean, Spain, Central and Latin America, in addition to the complexities which arise from the intersections of these cultures with non-Latino/a cultures. This definition highlights the globalization of the U.S. Latino/a community and mirrors the fact that life in the U.S. is now an intercultural reality. According to the 2010 U.S. census, 308.7 million people resided in the United States, of which 50.5 million (or 16 percent) were Latino/a. The Latino/a population hails from over twenty-two Latino/a cultural groups and was the fastest growing population from 2000 to 2010. U.S. theater production historically has only reflected a fraction of this diversity. Twenty-first century Latino/a theater artists are creating works that amply reflect this complexity. By embracing the current landscape of Latino/a theater, U.S. theaters not only present a view of contemporary Latino/a culture, they also provide their audiences with ways in which to more fully understand our multi-cultural U.S. experience.

Playwright Tanya Saracho

Creating a Commons
A Latino/a Theater Commons acknowledges the gifts that Latino/a theater artists can share with each other by connecting Latino/a theater artists from across the U.S. to create a platform and promote the latest developments in the field of Latino/a theater. From artists who began their professional careers in the 1970s to those who recently completed their MFA training, a commons facilitates a vibrant, intergenerational conversation that reflects contemporary U.S. Latino/a theater. Building upon the foundation of the past and highlighting the realities of the present, a Latino/a Theater Commons creates new models of engagement and presentation of Latino/a theater that will not only illuminate the wide expanse of the field but will allow audiences to update the U.S. narrative by experiencing multi-cultural worlds on stage that reflect an ever-diversifying national reality.

Highlighting our History
From the success of Luis Valdez’ 1978 production of Zoot Suit in Los Angeles to Maria Irene Fornes’ Obie-Award winning New York City production of Fefu and Her Friends in 1977, U.S. Latino/a theater continues to grow and thrive from coast to coast. Through the support of organizations such as the Ford Foundation and the Lila Wallace–Reader’s Digest Fund, several U.S. regional theaters have provided platforms for the continued development of Latino/a theater artists. The INTAR Playwrights Workshop in New York City, South Coast Repertory’s Hispanic Playwrights Project in Costa Mesa, California and The Mark Taper Forum’s Latino Theatre Initiative in Los Angeles became centers of training, collaboration and conversation from 1978 to 2005. These programs helped launch the careers of a generation of Latino/a theater artists including Pulitzer prize winners Nilo Cruz and Quiara Alegría Hudes, Academy-Award nominee José Rivera, Obie award winners Caridad Svich and Kristoffer Diaz and MacArthur Genius grant winner Luis Alfaro.

INTAR, founded in 1972 by Max Ferrá, is one of the longest-running companies producing Latino/a theater in the United States. Maria Irene Fornes created the INTAR Hispanic Playwrights-in-Residence Laboratory (1978-1991) and trained some of the most widely produced Latino/a playwrights in the U.S. including Cruz, Svich, Alfaro, Cherrie Moraga, Migdalia Cruz and Octavio Solis. Svich states,

Fornes, leading by example, did not require that the playwrights in the Lab address any ethnically specific subject matter or theme. Through daily visualization exercises, the writers were asked to discover the work within them, to create the forms that suited their visions, and under Fornes’ rigorous, watchful eye, to speak the truth about their worlds.

Under the current leadership of Lou Moreno, INTAR continues to produce new work by Latino/a playwrights.

José Cruz Gonzalez

Hispanic Playwrights Project (HPP), 1985-2004, created by José Cruz Gonzalez and later directed by Juliette Carrillo, featured a yearly summer festival of new works at South Coast Repertory bringing together new plays written by Latino/a playwrights. For many playwrights, HPP provided a first professional theater development opportunity. The annual gathering launched the careers of many Latino/a theater artists including Octavio Solis, Rogelio Martinez, Karen Zacarías, Kristoffer Diaz, Quiara Alegría Hudes and Anne García-Romero.

The Latino Theatre Initiative (LTI), 1992-2005, at the Mark Taper Forum, was designed to diversify the Taper’s audience base by offering theatrical programming relevant to the Latino/a community while also providing access to emerging Latino/a artists who reflected the diversity of the city of Los Angeles. Founded by José Luis Valenzuela and later co-directed by Luis Alfaro and Diane Rodriguez, LTI developed new works through in-house readings, festivals and yearly writers’ retreats.

Playwright Luis Alfaro

An Action Plan: Generating New Models
In our dream for a Latino/a Theater Commons, we build upon the foundation of the past and the momentum of the present to create four initiatives that will continue to advance the field of U.S. Latino/a theater.

1. The Los Angeles Theatre Center, under the direction of José Luis Valenzuela, will produce a festival of ten Latino/a plays over the course of the 2014-15 season. This festival seeks to present ten diverse plays that will mirror the complexity of the U.S. Latino/a community.

2. Latino/a Theater Commons will pilot a bi-annual conference of new Latino/a work hosted by the Theatre School at DePaul University in Chicago. The Festival will honor and be inspired by previous programs such as the Hispanic Playwrights Project, but be reconceived for the twenty-first century to allow for live and online participation and new methods of collaboration through workshops and focus groups on specific theatrical disciplines.

3. Latino/a Theater Commons will launch an online platform, Cafe Onda (Wave Cafe). This platform will be created as an online community and conversation about the current state of the Latino/a theater in the twenty-first century. Cafe Onda will contain articles, blogs and live streaming of theater events and will be linked to HowlRound, an online journal of the Theater Commons.

4. Latino/a Theater Commons will broaden the conversation by working with an expanded national cohort of Latino/a theater artists to convene in 2013 and solidify our efforts in implementing these plans that will generate a new national narrative for U.S. theater. Members of the Steering Committee who will be involved in planning this meeting include as of this publication:

  • Christopher Acebo (Designer; Associate Artistic Director, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Ashland OR)
  • Luis Alfaro (Playwright, Assistant Professor, USC, Los Angeles CA)
  • Juliette Carrillo (Stage Director; Former Artistic Associate, South Coast Repertory; Ensemble Member, Cornerstone Theater Company, Los Angeles, CA)
  • Sandra Delgado (Actor; Company Member, Collaboraction Theater Company; Company Member, Teatro Vista, Chicago IL)
  • Kristoffer Diaz (Playwright, New York NY)
  • Michael John Garcés (Playwright; Artistic Director, Cornerstone Theater Company,Los Angeles CA)
  • Ricky J. Martinez (Artistic Director, The New Theatre, Coral Gables FL)
  • Anne García-Romero (Playwright; Assistant Professor of Theater, University of Notre Dame, South Bend IN)
  • Lisa Portes (Stage Director; Head of MFA in Directing, DePaul University, Chicago IL)
  • Tlaloc Rivas (Stage Director; Assistant Professor of Theater, The University of Iowa, Iowa City IA)
  • Anthony Rodriguez (Artistic Director, Aurora Theater Company, Atlanta GA)
  • Diane Rodriguez (Playwright; Associate Artistic Director, Center Theater Group, Los Angeles CA)
  • Olga Sanchez (Artistic Director, Miracle Mainstage, Miracle Theater Group, Portland OR)
  • Tanya Saracho (Playwright, Chicago IL / Los Angeles CA)
  • Octavio Solis (Playwright, San Francisco CA)
  • Antonio Sonera (Stage Director; Producing Artistic Director, Badass Theatre Company, Portland OR)
  • Enrique Urueta (Playwright, Minneapolis MN)
  • Kinan Valdez (Stage Director; Producing Artistic Director, El Teatro Campesino, San Juan Bautista, CA)
  • José Luis Valenzuela (Stage Director; Artistic Director, Los Angeles Theater Center, Professor of Theater, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles CA)
  • Patricia Ybarra (Theatre Studies Scholar; Assistant Professor of Theatre, Brown University, Providence RI)
  • Karen Zacarías (Playwright; Resident Playwright–Arena Stage, Washington DC)

These projects will provide a multifaceted view of contemporary Latino/a theater. Through exploring, developing and advocating for new Latino/a plays, all four initiatives generate necessary conversations about the diverse make-up of U.S. society. We respectfully share this plan in the hopes that a Latino/a Theater Commons will advance the state of Latino/a theater while also allowing audiences to update the U.S. narrative at the start of the twenty-first century.

Onward!

Anne Garcia-Romero’s plays have been developed and produced most notably at the NYSF/Public Theater, Summer Play Festival (Off-Broadway), The Mark Taper Forum, Hartford Stage, Borderlands Theater, and South Coast Repertory. Her newest play, Provenance, was part of the 2012 Eugene O’Neill National Playwrights Conference. She is currently writing a book on contemporary Latina playwrights. She’s an Assistant Professor of Theater at the University of Notre Dame and an alumna of New Dramatists.

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