The Beginnings of A New National Latino Theatre Alliance

By Oscar Basulto

Guest Writer

pLAywriting in the city

Across the country, there is great anticipation amongst Latina and Latino theater artists this year as new national theatre alliances begin to form, producing numerous local conversations throughout various regions of the United States. These alliances are taking shape primarily as periodic gatherings with the intent to address a diverse array of local concerns and on establishing a national Latino theatre network.

In May, a small group of Latina and Latino theatre artists from throughout the country met in Washington DC with the broad purpose of discussing the current condition of Latino theatre in the United States. Hosted by the Center for the Theatre Commons, this group formed what is now referred to as the Latino/a Theatre Commons and developed a preliminary national agenda, which includes a three year plan to produce a festival of 10 new works by Latina and Latino artists, (under the direction of Jose Luis Valenzuela of the Latino Theatre Company) as well as the initiation of a biannual conference to highlight new works, to be hosted by De Paul University in Chicago.  Anne García-Romero, playwright, associate professor at the University of Notre Dame and participant of the gathering in Washington wrote in an essay posted on HowlRound, the online journal for the Center for the Theatre 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 US to create a platform and promote the latest developments in the field of Latino/a theater.

She goes on later to say:

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 US narrative at the start of the twenty-first century.

Additionally, Café Onda, the soon to be launched online platform for the Latino/a Theatre Commons will serve as a resource to promote community and conversation. In a recently released statement, Tlaloc Rivas, stage director, associate professor at the University of Iowa and editor for Café Onda wrote,

Our goal is to connect Latina/o artists from across the country to share, discuss, question and articulate many of the issues, obstacles, achievements and ideas for the 21st century… and create a website that contains information, resources, opportunities and ideas to assist our fellow artists in the support, creation and activism in new ideas and new work.

About a month after the Latino/a Commons meeting, a group of Latina and Latino teatristas attending the annual Theatre Communications Group, (TCG) conference in Boston, met during lunchtime on the second day of the event.  The purpose was to create a space within the conference in order to further the discussion of developing a national Latino theatre network. Some of those present at the lunch were also at the meeting in Washington and relayed the main points expressed by the Latino/a Theatre Commons.

The discussion reinforced the importance for Latina and Latino theatre artists to not only create that network but to follow through on this effort by going back to their respective communities and continuing the conversation at the local level. Utilizing Conference 2.0, TCG’s online community, as an organizing tool, Kinan Valdez, Producing Artistic Director at El Teatro Campesino, and Olga Sanchez,Artistic Director at Miracle Mainstage, have spearheaded organizing efforts by updating participants on the latest developments of these post-conference efforts and recruiting artists who did not attend TCG to become part of this burgeoning movement. Participation in 2.0 is open to anyone, regardless of whether they’ve attended a TCG event.  Local discussions have taken place in Tuscon, San Jose, Miami and Portland, Oregon.  Also, Valdez has facilitated discussions of Los Angeles based theatre groups and artists, which seems to be the most active region coming out of the meeting at TCG, having already met three times and developed an organizing committee which also meets regularly. Efforts in Los Angeles have generated a commitment to produce a West Coast Latino Theatre Encuentro to assess and address the state of Latino theatre in Southern California. It is being planned for late Spring 2013.

The artists who make up these groups are composed of a diverse range of individuals who represent a variety of national, migratory, economic, and educational backgrounds; as well as sexual orientations.  The groups also include a variety of theatre practitioners who have a wide range of professional experience; such as Herbert Siguenza of Culture Clash fame to emerging teatristas, such as members of Individual Artist Collective, who organized to secure invitations and raised funds to send a delegation to this year’s TCG Conference, an event traditionally open only to nominated artists from TCG member organizations.

Additionally, in terms of educational experiences, these artists not only represent a variety of educational attainment, but also various levels of actual theatrical training. Whereas in the beginning of the Chicano Theatre movement, the vast majority of practitioners had little to no artistic training, these new teatristas range from minimally prepared individuals to those who have attained terminal degrees in their particular artistic practice and also scholars who have contributed immensely to the critical study of theatre.  Among the latter is Jorge Huerta, a pioneer in the study of Latino Theatre and former artistic coordinator of TENAZ (Teatro Nacional de Aztlán,) a predecessor to the current effort to create a national Latino theatre network. Huerta recalls the focus of TENAZ as an organization dedicated to both the aesthetic and political development of theatre practitioners.  The present discussions toward a new national Latino theatre alliance and the resolve of its participants seem to indicate that it intends to adopt the same task.

Regardless of one’s experience, participation in these groups is open to any and all Latina and Latino theatre practitioners and stakeholders. Thus, those who attend and actively participate in them will determine the direction and agenda of these groups.

The next meeting will be held on Sunday, October 14 from 11AM- 2PM at East LA Rep 1350 San Pablo St. Los Angeles, CA 90033. For more information e-mail latinoalliancenow@gmail.com.

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Oscar Basulto is a native Angelino, raging Chicano pacifist, and theatre artist.  From the TV towers of Mount Wilson, he can look West and on a clear day see the entire geographic basin where he’s lived at least 90% of his life, a fact he both loves and does not love.

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