Claiming Our Places in the Legacy of Latinx Theatre

Mark:  And that’s in high school?

Réal: Yes.

Mark:  Wow.

Réal: I know. I feel so lucky. College was difficult in the sense that it was an entire department led by white folks. The lack of culture was glaring. But a few professors pointed me in the right direction. I didn’t necessarily have access to work by queer, trans, intersex, Black, Indigenous, people of color (QTIBIPOC) until my theatre history classes. They were vigorous upper division courses taught by professor Stefani Overman-Tsai.  She taught me dramaturgy and deep analysis and exposed me to a wide variety of cultural works. Cynthia Santos DeCure was another professor that introduced me to the works great playwrights like Evelina Fernandez, Luis Alfaro, and Karen Zacarías.

One of the first Latinx theatre pieces I read was Lydia by Octavio Solis in 2017. I ended up producing and directing it. It was so well received on the campus. The word going around was “This show is so good. It’s so fucked up. You’ve got to go see it.”

The following year, I ended up working at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. I went to a sports bar called Red Zone after my first company introduction. Octavio happened to be there. He came up to my table to say hello and invited me to his pachanga for Fourth of July. I had just moved to Ashland; I didn’t know anyone really. We chatted the rest of the night. I love how life did that.

Mark: You’ve got me thinking about the aesthetics of Latinx theatre. I think about your and my stories and some commonalities and there’s a certain kind of “you just have to figure it out” thing that we experienced. I think about the way that we speak, the way that we’re our art… this hyphenated, hybrid mix.

I’m also aware that we are part of an arc, and therefore there’s more to it than just my spot in it. Because we inherited something. Other people came before us, and what we contribute builds on that. Part of wanting that definition of Latinx theatre is because I never belonged in the “majority thing.” So for me trying to understand and define Latinx theatre is also about trying to be a part of it.

We are, by definition, hyphenated in our identities. So how do we carry that? How does that reflect, and how does that inform the art that we are making?

I feel like we’re at a high point in the movement: the caliber of art, the writing, the directing, the designing. It feels like we have a generation of active practitioners right now who are at the top of their game.

Réal: We’re going to get different viewpoints of a very complex topic: our intersectional identities.

Mark: Amen.

Many years ago, I was swimming in these questions, and I created this performance piece called DJ Latinidad’s Latino Dance Party. It was a play in the form of a dance party. We had this Puerto Rican DJ, DJ BreakBeat Lou, who was there at the beginning of hip hop in New York, the Bronx. We got connected, and it’s like, “I want to create a dance party, and I want to look at Latinidad. What is it?” So we commissioned ten playwrights to write short pieces about and reflecting Latinidad today. Not a single person wrote anything about identity politics. Questions of identity never even came up.

And there was a wide range of artists from veteranos like Octavio Solis, but also Kristoffer Diaz and Virginia Grise. What was fascinating is they just wanted to tell stories and they wanted to tell them in a wide range of styles and approaches. And it was this one great moment reflecting where we are in our movement right now. We’ve moved past identity politics pieces, and now we can just tell stories.

Réal:  There’s definitely a shift. When I first started to see Latine work, it always revolved around suffering.

Mark: Just to exert our humanity, we had to tell the sad stories. We had to tell the trauma stories, like, “Hey, white person, see me as a person. See how your actions, your policies are affecting my life.” Those plays were really written for the benefit of white people just to get them to see us as human, and now we’re at a different point.

Réal: Absolutely. It’s also therapeutic. Maybe I should refer to them as drama therapy plays.

Mark: I remember when I first started grad school at University of California, Irvine. José Cruz Gonzalez had graduated from the directing program, and Keith Fowler, who was running the directing program asked, “Do you know José?” And I was like, “No,” and he said, “Well, let me introduce you.” So he introduced us. José said, “Let’s just hop on the phone.”

Now, you should know, José is the nicest, most wonderful human being in all of theatre. So on our call, José (who I’d never met) went through his address book and said, “You should call so-and-so, and here’s their phone number. Tell them I suggested that you call them.” He was in a position of power. He was running this program at South Coast Repertory Theater. He had been out there doing work, and he was like, “Let me open some doors for you.”

Réal: I love that.

Mark: I feel like we’re at a high point in the movement: the caliber of art, the writing, the directing, the designing. It feels like we have a generation of active practitioners right now who are at the top of their game. It feels like there’s something special going on right now. History will name it, but it does feel like we’re in something.

Réal: Agreed. We are shifting who’s in the room, who’s producing, who the leaders of organizations are. I’m thinking of Amelia Acosta-Powell, Jacqueline Flores, W. Fran Astorga, Jesse J. Sanchez, Sonia Yvette Alvares, Dr. Patrice Amon, you, me—all currently championing the industry, making opportunities for Latine artists. We are in a moment where we are able to say, “This is where we’re coming from, this is where we are, and this is where we’re headed.” It’s like a new wave of a social movement. A Latinx theatre renaissance.

Source link

Related Articles

Back to top button