Tag Archives: Latina

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 However, U.S. theater currently does not always reflect this reality and therefore can perpetuate an outdated narrative.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.

Tanya Saracho and “El Nogalar”: Mexican? American? Call Her Writer

By ROB WEINERT-KENDT

IN reviewing the ebullient play “Kita y Fernanda” in 2008, a Chicago critic called its young author, Tanya Saracho, “the Chicana Chekhov” for her deft blend of comedy and drama. It’s hardly surprising, then, that her loose adaptation of Chekhov’s “Cherry Orchard,” titled “El Nogalar,” is set against the bloody backdrop of Mexico’s drug wars.

But the story behind Ms. Saracho’s rise from scrappy storefront theaters to national stature is, like the playwright herself, more complicated than that clever, alliterative epithet would suggest.

Tanya Saracho

For starters, though Ms. Saracho happily accepted the Chekhov comparison, she doesn’t identify as Chicana — a self-assigned term associated with a particular West Coast Mexican-American sensibility. She doesn’t even consider herself Mexican-American. A native of the northwestern Mexican state of Sinaloa and raised mostly in the border towns of Reynosa, Mexico, and McAllen, Tex., Ms. Saracho, 34, is a green-card-carrying Mexican citizen living in the United States still torn about joining the country she’s called home since 1989.

Her long-standing ambivalence isn’t just a matter of paperwork; literal and figurative borders fire Ms. Saracho’s best writing. The title characters of the autobiographical “Kita y Fernanda” are the daughters of the live-in maid and the woman of the house, respectively, who grow up together over treacherous fault lines of class and language. In 2009’s “Our Lady of the Underpass” Ms. Saracho turned a series of interviews with a diverse group of Chicagoans into a suite of monologues about an image of the Virgin Mary allegedly sighted on a concrete wall under the Kennedy Expressway.

And in “El Nogalar,” which translates as “The Pecan Orchard,” Ms. Saracho has set Chekhov’s final play amid the violence that has enveloped Mexico’s northern states.

“Every time we go home, it’s all we talk about, because it’s all there is,” Ms. Saracho said. “Right now we’re held hostage by this thing. It’s so complicated that it has no name, but we all know what we’re talking about.”

The adaptation came about in part because the Latino theater company Teatro Vista was looking for classics to adapt with a Latino spin — and partly because Ms. Saracho has a big mouth.

She was talking at a cocktail party, “and I was like, ‘The most Latino playwright I encountered in college was Chekhov,’ and then someone took me up on it,” said Ms. Saracho, whose conversation spills out in digressive torrents that might brand her as a fresa, the Mexican version of a Valley Girl, but for the heady subject matter.

According to Cecilie Keenan, who is directed the world premiere at The Goodman Theatre in Chicago, what links “The Cherry Orchard” to “El Nogalar” is the jarring spectacle of reverse migration.

“I asked Tanya: ‘What about the fact that our economy’s kind of tanking now? Aren’t rich Mexicans going back home because there’s nothing to do here?’ ” Ms. Keenan said. “And she was like, ‘You know, they are.’ ” So the return of Chekhov’s debt-ridden Madame Ranevsky from Paris to her soon-to-be-auctioned Russian estate becomes, in Ms. Saracho’s play, the story of Señora Maite, alighting obliviously at her family home in northeastern Mexico, where nothing so gentle as an auction threatens the property.

In Ms. Saracho’s compressed time frame the local drug mafia steadily tightens its grip over a few urgent days, compared with the fateful ebbing summer of “The Cherry Orchard.” And, in a marked departure from Chekhov’s famous dictum that a gun shown in a play’s first act must be fired in the second, “El Nogalar” features this sassy stage direction: “Lopez goes for his piece. Yes, old boy is packing, O.K.? But just don’t make a big deal out of it ever. This is just what the men do now.”

Like many young theater artists Ms. Saracho moved to Chicago for its reputation as a no-nonsense stage town and helped form a small company, Teatro Luna, to create work — in her case, frank, funny monologues inspired by her own experiences. But her ambition and achievement quickly outpaced the solo format. The way she tells it, she was plucked from a happy fringe career by the city’s larger institutions; the way others tell it, her potential practically forced them to act.

“She’s the first really viable local Latino playwright we’ve had,” said Henry Godinez, a co-founder of Teatro Vista, who joined the Goodman’s artistic staff in 1996 and has remained a bridge between the two companies. In 2008, with the encouragement of mentors like Mr. Godinez, Ms. Saracho had assignments from Chicago’s two biggest theaters: “Our Lady of the Underpass,” which the Goodman commissioned and Teatro Vista produced, and an adaptation of Sandra Cisneros’s “House on Mango Street” for Steppenwolf TheaterCompany.

With these gains in profile came some wrenching transitions. She quit Teatro Luna a year ago, a decision that still clearly pains her. And she’s now working on plays that will feature no Latino characters: a commission from About Face, Chicago’s gay-oriented theater, for a play about the transgender Civil War soldier Albert Cashier, for which Ms. Saracho received a $20,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, and a commission from Steppenwolf to write a play for its mostly white acting ensemble.

Tanya Saracho and playwright Luis Alfaro, serving as dramaturg on the Fountain production.

“Tanya is now facing the idea that she’s going to have a national role,” said Polly Carl, Steppenwolf’s director of artistic development. “She realizes the unfortunate, in a way, responsibility she is taking on. No playwright should have to take on the voice of a people. What we’re telling her is that she can write about anything.”

What Ms. Saracho seems destined to write about, no matter the place, is socioeconomic class. Raised comfortably in an upper-middle-class family, she said she didn’t confront prejudice against Mexicans — or the troubling notion that she was exempt because of her privilege and her fair skin — until she moved to Chicago. In part that’s why Ms. Saracho has beefed up the role of the social-climbing character of Dunyasha in “Cherry Orchard,” renamed Dunia in her play.

“Dunyasha became my obsession,” Ms. Saracho confessed. “Dunyasha wants to be white, and we have that whole race shame in Mexico. You don’t even say it. It just is. When you see who’s serving who, who’s in power, it’s evident. I don’t look at it when I’m down there, but when I look at it with binoculars from up here, I do.”

El Nogalar  Fountain Theatre Jan 21-March 11  (323)  663-1525 More Info