By Tony Bartolone
When I walked into the backyard of a house in East LA it was a classic fish out of water scenario. Everybody there seemed to have a great passion for Latino theatre, a passion (by the simple nature of my ethnicity) my heart does not possess. As a white male born in the mid-eighties, racial prejudice is not something that has heavily impacted my life. However, the more food shared and the more conversations that developed, the more I felt connected with their spirit.
The reason people were gathered at a house in East Los Angeles was to hear from feminist, Latina playwright Tanya Saracho. Born in Sinaloa, Mexico, Saracho moved to Texas in 1989. But it was in Chicago where she really made her mark. Fresh out of college, the young actress soon became frustrated with the limited potential of acting roles she was able to play. It seemed that her “type” was confined to play Latina stereotypes, such as the Mexican housemaid. Armed with her outgoing, infectious personality combined with her desire to play more substantial characters, Ms. Saracho co-founded Teatro Luna, a Chicago-based, Latina theatre ensemble. And it was with this company of women that she started writing.
Respected Chicano playwright and recipient of the 1997 MacArthur Genius Grant, Luis Alfaro conducted an informal (yet informative) interview with Saracho. What was compelling was how unpretentious and friendly the entire event was. The concept of interviewing somebody naturally puts that person on a pedestal. Yet the guest of honor was so down-to-Earth, it was much more conversational and relaxed than any ‘Q & A’ I had ever attended. Both humble and confident, Alfaro and Saracho sitting on a sofa and talking candidly about their beliefs and experiences was a rare pleasure.
Responsible for putting on this wonderful event was Individual Artist Collective. IAC is a new arts group dedicated to ensuring that any conversation about theatre is not a practice excluding certain groups. In other words, they stand for diversity in discussion of theatre. The collective was formed for similar reasons that Tanya Saracho started writing; there was an immediate need for it. Living in the City of Angels, there is not a day that goes by I am not somehow influenced by Latino culture. But when I turn on the TV or go to the movies or see a play, their presence is lacking, to say the least. When considering race, it’s strange that these mediums are often the first to mention an issue, but the last to build a significant foundation for progress.
El Nogalar (“The Pecan Orchard”), Tanya Saracho’s loose adaptation of Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard, premiered on the West Coast January 28th at The Fountain Theatre. “When I was in school, I felt that Chekhov was the most Latino playwright I came across” said Saracho before talking about her hesitations in moving to Los Angeles. She described herself as “too much of a Chicago girl.” While she’s not completely committed to transplanting herself to the West Coast, it’s nice to have her here for now. On behalf of Southern California, I would like to welcome Tanya Saracho and wish her all the fortunes she deserves. Salud!
El Nogalar Now Playing to March 11 (323) 663-1525 More Info
Tony Bartolone is a staff writer for pLAywriting in the city.