Writing is a part of you. Like breathing. It is essential to your life. And you can’t imagine life without it.
by Caridad Svich
The charge of the new underlines each act of writing for the theater. The ghosts of the past hover over the signs struck on the intangible pages on the screen. Strike. Strike. The fingers tap into the keyboard the breath of a new theater about to be born. Indebted to nothing but itself and the ghosts of the past that call upon the writer’s duty to bear witness.
In the act of writing, the political body of the text imagines itself in a room with the bodies of the public that will make possible the exchange of life that a theater piece demands: the exchange of a performance unbartered and given over to the ineffable presence of the moment.
Words are mere signs in a theater space. They dart and dance and wound the air with their weight, meaning and sound. Text is carved upon the invisible spaces of the theater, the spaces rendered body by actors and elements of design. The kinesthetic beauty of theater making allows for a rare intimacy of engagement with the public—one that pushes past comfort and into a suspended state of transformation.
Writ upon the theater walls are the ghost signs of past words, utterings, and inhalations of breath by former text builders and theatermakers. Each ghost sign is part of the present moment. Each moment performed is thus haunted. Spectral acts mark the spectral space that knows no boundaries beyond that of the imagination. Writing for the theater is an act of resistance. It is also an act of folly, daring, and one that asks of its makers and emancipated spectators alike to consider potentialities of being beyond the quotidian and sometimes, yes, beyond nation and state. Making theater is a spiritual endeavor. Its religion is not organized, but rather assembled from kinships with theater tribes across time.
Two) One of my best friends in theater is named Euripides. Another is named García Lorca. And yet another is named Calderón de la Barca. These makers from the past are as much kin to me in the art of writing as are my peers in the field and those with whom I share an aesthetic lean. I distinguish them of course one from the other, but when I write, I feel as if they are all with me, depending on the play being made, and with me too are conversations about writing and of facing the curious challenges of writing a play—of making something that you know will always be unfinished, that will always be tested in front of an audience, and only serve as a rough score for performance.
In making a play, the writer obsesses over every detail, every line, and every action that the play puts in motion. Yet, the score is never exact. We know this when we write. The paradox of making theater, in building text, is that you are always somehow at its mercy, and yet judged by its merits. How does a writer become?Continue reading →
In the spirit of retiring “Late Show” host David Letterman’s famous “Top Ten” lists, I submit the following reasons why theatre is still important today:
#10 Human Beings The performance of theatre is a universal cultural phenomenon that exists in every society around the world. Human beings are the only animal species that creates theatre. Understanding theatre helps us understand what it means to be human.
#9 Self-Expression Theatre teaches us how to express ourselves more effectively. It develops our ability to communicate our thoughts and feelings to others, improving our relationships and improving the world around us.
#8 Self-Knowledge Theatre teaches us about ourselves. It helps us understand how our minds and the minds of others work. It helps us to see how the environments in which we live affect who we are and who we will become.
#7 History Theatre is a great way to lean about history. Rather than learning history from reading it in a dusty textbook, theatre makes history come alive right before our eyes. Theatre makes learning about history fun.
#6 The Body Theatre reminds us that, even in this ever-changing digital age, there is a human body at the center of every digital transaction. Accounting for the body in the design of the future will help us make technology that works for us rather than us working for technology.
#5 Globalization Theatre helps us understand people from cultures other than our own. We can learn a lot about people from cultures all around the world by studying their performance traditions. In doing so, we can learn to be less ethnocentric, and more accepting of others.
#4 Self-Empowerment Performance permeates every aspect of our everyday lives. Power relationships are constructed through performances. Understanding how performances unfold around us can help us to recognize and take control of the power dynamics that affect us.
#3 Social Change Theatre is a cultural space where society examines itself in a mirror. Theatre has long been looked at as a laboratory in which we can study the problems that confront society and attempt to solve those problems.
#2 Education Theatre is a great way to learn. Going to the theatre teaches us about people, places, and ideas to which we would not otherwise be exposed. Learning in a theatrical setting makes learning fun.
#1 Creativity Theatre helps us to develop our creativity. As our education system increasingly puts an emphasis on science, technology, engineering, and math, we cannot forget the importance of art. Let’s put the “STE(A)M” back in “STEM!”
Dr. Kevin Brown is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Theatre at the University of Missouri, Columbia. He has published in Theatre Journal,International Journal of Performance Arts and Digital Media, Popular Entertainment Studies, Journal of Religion and Theatre, Journal of Popular Music Studies, Puppetry International, and Kajian Malaysia.
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
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:
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.
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.