As part of the Café Onda soft launch this summer, we asked five authors from different places in the generational map, at different stages of their career, to open their hearts and their minds for us to reflect on their experience at the 2014 TCG National Conference: Crossing Borders. This is the first post in the series.
Que Onda from the West Coast!
I recently made the eight hundred and nineteen mile pilgrimage from Ashland, Oregon, and my playwright-in-residence duties at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival to travel from one border to another in my blue Ford Windstar soccer-mom van with the license plate: 6ALFARO.
What was it that made me drive around majestic Mount Shasta, roll past the hairpin curves of the Trinity National Forest, cruise a lonely stretch of industrial silos near the tiny town of Williams, stop in Sacramento just to see people walking, brave a three hundred and sixty-seven mile swath of flat farmland between Stockton and the Grapevine, hit the pedal over Kern County, stop in the City of Los at King Taco for an horchata and continue south past a breezy view of the Pacific Ocean, the soldiers at Camp Pendleton, and go back thirty something years to my past?
Time has moved quickly for me. Just yesterday it was 1982 and I was starting to work professionally in the arts, first in the wild and exploratory world of performance art, then into the comfort of words in the commune of poetry, and finally, through a chance encounter to study with María Irene Fornés, into professional theater and playwriting.
I was an “emerging artist” for twenty or so of those years and, truth be told, with no academic history, I was determined to learn every possible aspect of our field. Among many other things, I stage-managed, I designed lights, I directed, I belonged to a theater collective for ten years, I helped start a number of not-for-profit arts agencies, I even took off all my clothes and played a country-music-loving pedophile in a musical with my own song and won a Backstage West award for it.
But most of all, I never stopped writing.
People ask me what I did during my border-to-border thirteen-hour ride. I am not going to lie. Like with most of my long-distance drives, which I do a lot, I rarely play music. I go inside of myself, I get clear about a lot of things—I laugh, I cry, I work on some speeches, I mourn my father, I get the details of a play moving in my head, I run lines not yet written to see how they sound in the air, and I get ready for whatever is waiting for me.
And waiting for me at the end of my journey this time was the Theatre Communications Group (TCG) conference in San Diego. Or was it my dead grandmother in Tijuana, Mexico, where I spent a portion of every summer in the colonias, feeding goats and cows, and riding in buses with no doors or windows?
A lucky one hundred of us were selected for a pre-conference TCG track at El Centro Cultural de Tijuana, which included a trip to the border fence running into the ocean where we saw an excerpt from a Mexican Antigone.
At the pre-conference, participants could either chose a Diversity & Inclusion track or one exploring International Artists & Touring.
It was an incredible bonding experience with colleagues and friends I have known forever and with many new people in the field. Many of the artists I had the pleasure of connecting with at the Latina/o Theatre Commons National Convening last October made this journey as well. The bus rolled out to the border at eight in the morning and rolled back in after midnight. Seventeen hours later, I was exhausted but renewed with artistic faith as we wrestled with some big ideas and ate tacos. Could there be a better combination?
Nothing that came after beat sharing this pre-conference experience, and I was reminded of my compañero, Guillermo Gómez-Peña, and a piece from his beautiful poem, “Freefalling Toward A Borderless Future.”
I see a whole generation
free falling toward a borderless future
incredible mixtures beyond sci fi:
Irish concheros, Benneton Zapatistas,
Gringofarians, Buttho rappers, Hopi rockers...
I see them all
a continent without a name,
the forgotten paisanos…
It has been fifteen years since I have gone to a TCG conference. I always liked them, but for this playwright of color, they were always lonely affairs. This used to be a conference mostly for artistic directors (missing in woefully obvious numbers this year) and staff from theaters. One could count the artists and people of color on one hand back then.
While we might all agree that the art on display in regional theaters throughout the United States does not adequately reflect the world as it actually is, the extraordinary number of women, people of color, activists, and artists of many disciplines at this year’s conference was not only astounding for its size and representation, but also for what seemed to me a group not interested in asking when anymore, but how we are going to make the theater that reflects an honest representation of the country.
This conference was what many of us in el movimiento have been waiting for: that moment when the next generation of amazing young artists, scholars, producers, and administrators are not only ready to step it up, but have also been trained through mentorship programs, internships, and good old theater jobs.
The Latina/o artists present at TCG used the affinity group meeting for introductions—to see who is out in the field, where they are at, and how we would be meeting over the weekend. Many of us, of course, knew each other, but to see the breadth of la comunidad, presente, was one for the record books.
Aside from some powerful intergenerational leaders of color meetings, lunches, impromptu group sharing, Herbert Siguenza’s site-specific reimagining of Henry V, the drama, the chisme, the affirmation, the name-calling, and the introductions, I did manage to see something formal that inspired me.
I went to a panel called “El Movimiento Will Be Digitized” which was facilitated by Olga Sanchez, artistic director of Milagro Theatre in Portland. The panel had the all-female brain power of Abigail Vega, the new producer for Latina/o Theatre Commons, Jamie Gahlon, Associate Director of HowlRound, Lisa Portes, head of directing at DePaul University and 2015 Carnavál of New Latina/o Work lead producer, and Chantal Rodriguez, programming director and scholar at the Los Angeles Theatre Center. No order of preference, just how I remember them sitting.
We got a great primer about organizing, using tools like Basecamp, Free Conference Calling, Dropbox, Google Docs, and more. It’s clear that technology can inspire us to imagine how we broaden the notion of not only how we communicate, but with whom.
I say all female because also scheduled was Tlaloc Rivas, director, who sat patiently by in Iowa on Skype. But somehow the gods of technology, ironically, were not on a panel about technology’s side. This was okay and brought home that there is nothing like coming together face to face.
The extraordinary power, and subtlety of human interaction is first and foremost why we travel and need to keep meeting, whether in regions, nationally, or more importantly, in the Americas to build our collective artistic community.
This is incredibly important. The national community and agenda is developing and in need of action. The leaders in our field are present and willing, the work is full of abundance, rigor, and ready for expression. Artists are hungry for the exchange with other artists and as we have learned over the last thirty or so years, the American theater, once the center of progressive thought and idea, is in desperate need of leadership.
In other words, our time is now.
And by “our” I mean just that. If you see yourself in the “our,” then the movement is waiting for you. The tools are there; we just have to use them.
A borderless future awaits.
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