Carnaval 2015 Opening Remarks
Welcome! Welcome! We can’t believe you are all here! My God! Welcome!
Thank you so much for joining the Latina/o Theatre Commons and our partners in crime, the Chicago Alliance of Latino Theatre Artists, Teatro Vista, HowlRound and The Theatre School at DePaul University for LTC CARNAVAL 2015!
The Latina/o Theatre Commons is a movement. We are a network of passionate, committed Latina and Latino theatremakers from around country who donate our time, resources, attention, and experience to forward Latino Theatre as central to the health and vitality of the American theatre.
We are so thrilled that you have come from thirty states, Washington DC, and Puerto Rico to join us in celebrating these twelve new Latina/o plays and their twelve mind-bogglingly talented authors. One of the LTC’s core missions is to promote the Full Aesthetic Plurality of Latino theatre. We intend to blow open your idea of what a Latina/o play is. Because Latino—as you all know—is not one thing. We come from many cultures: The writers whose work you will see this weekend alone claim their roots in Mexico, Puerto Rico, El Salvador…. the directors are Cuban, Colombian, Puerto Rican, and Mexican.… and the nearly four dozen Chicago Latina/o actors claim roots in, well, nearly every country in Latin America.
Aesthetically you will experience everything from straight-ahead realism, to magic realism, to a deeply personal bilingual performance piece, to an adult fairy tale, to an explosion of Fellini’s Satyricon, to a spoken-word romance, a docudrama, a theatrical graphic novel, a musical, a historic drama, and a riff on the future fallout of The Grapes of Wrath!
We believe that the breadth, depth, and vitality of Latina/o work comes directly from the embedded plurality of our experience. Latina/o theatre artists are all bi, or tri, or many-cultural—and we seek to find narrative structures that articulate the complexity, the lack of linearity, the explosive poetry of living in that dynamic space between cultures.
These twelve pieces are just the tip of the iceberg. We received just under a hundred submissions from the some of the very best writers in the nation for this festival. If you count, you will find over 200 playwrights names out in the lobby. And if you know even three of them, you will recognize the aesthetic, genre-bending diversity of the work.
We believe that the breadth, depth, and vitality of Latina/o work comes directly from the embedded plurality of our experience. Latina/o theatre artists are all bi, or tri, or many-cultural—and we seek to find narrative structures that articulate the complexity, the lack of linearity, the explosive poetry of living in that dynamic space between cultures. In that way, Latina/o theatre signals the dramaturgy of the theatre to come. As our nation becomes more and more mixed—as we are less and less able to check boxes on the census—we will want stories whose structures and range mirror the multiplicity of this great nation.
When you watch the work this weekend you are experiencing a harbinger.
Because make no mistake, the LTC believes that Latina/o theatre is right now, before your very eyes, giving birth to the New American Theatre.
I have some folks we need to thank before I pass on the mic.
First: Carnaval 2015 is made possible by the generosity and support of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Joyce Foundation. Additional support has been provided by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and the National Association of Latino Arts and Cultures. A round of applause for believing in our cause!
Second: The Commons is not an institution, nor an organization. It is a nationwide collective of participants, guided by a Steering Committee of volunteers. Will the members of the LTC Steering Committee please stand up?
Will those of you who served on the Carnaval 2015 Task Force please stay standing? Keep standing.
Carnaval was not produced by a theatre—there is no staff—no marketing department, or development person, or literary manager, or any of that. This event was produced by a small army of volunteers that includes the LTC Carnaval Task Force (stay standing), along with our producing partners the Chicago Alliance of Latino Theatre Artists and Teatro Vista who serve as the Host Committee for this event.
If you are a member of ALTA, Teatro Vista, the Host Committee and/or an ALTA Volunteer will you please stand? Stay standing.
We wouldn’t be here without the support of The Theatre School at DePaul University, its incredibly generous faculty and staff, and its passionate student body. I am a proud, proud member of this institution. If you are faculty or staff at The Theatre School or a Theatre School student volunteer will you please stand?
Look at this body of people! These are the folks who made Carnaval happen! OK, now you can sit down.
But we really wouldn’t be here without the support of one person. In May 2012, when the LTC was founded by a small group of Latina/o theatre artists, we laid out five dreams, one of which was to host a biannual festival of new Latina/o plays. At the time we didn’t know where we’d do it, but I knew that back in Chicago we had broken ground on this new building and would open it in 2013. So I was like “well, I think we can host it?” And as the LTC was raising awareness and money for its upcoming activities, we just kind of started saying that we were hosting a festival of new Latino plays at The Theatre School at DePaul University. And we started saying it a lot—it showed up in the LA Times, and on HowlRound, and even in a small Chicago paper or two… and I got this email from our Dean saying “um, what are we doing?”
I am so deeply and profoundly grateful to Dean John Culbert for jumping aboard this crazy train and putting the full support of The Theatre School at DePaul University behind Carnaval 2015. An internationally renowned Lighting and Set Designer, a humble but nonetheless visionary leader, and my mentor, ladies and gentlemen, the Dean of The Theatre School, John Culbert.
From the depth of need and despair, people can work together, can organize themselves to solve their own problems and fill their own needs with dignity and strength. —Cesar Chavez
In 1988, the year I graduated from college, I went on a hunger strike in solidarity with Cesar Chavez who fasted for thirty-six days in the middle of what was the third call for a strike on California table grapes that had first begun in 1965. I was living in a Catholic Worker house in Los Angeles and our community each took a day or two to join the fast. We also spent a lot of time protesting in support of the boycott, standing in front of local grocery stores handing out flyers and talking to the FBI guys who would follow us around. It was in part the work of Chavez that inspired me to think about a life devoted to justice. I think about Chavez’s spirit in this room, his work and that of his community birthing the work and leadership of El Teatro Campesino, Luis Valdez, Lupe Valdez, and then Kinan Valdez, and how many of us in this room have been touched by Chavez’s call for the necessity of people working together, “to organize themselves to solve their own problems and fill their own needs.”
Chavez’s words describe perfectly the work of the Latino/a Theatre Commons—a group of artists actively joining together, using every resource at their disposal to change the circumstances of their reality in the American theatre. When HowlRound helped convene a group of eight Latino/a artists at the inspiration of Karen Zacarías four years ago, the desire for change, for visibility, for an American theatre to be more American, was a necessity that needed a plan for action. In a thirty-six hour stretch the Latino Theatre Commons was formed and a plan was hatched. And today marks an end and a beginning. When we all met in that room four years ago we talked about a big convening in Boston, an online presence for conversation in Café Onda, an Encuentro of full productions made possible by the Los Angeles Theatre Center, and a Carnaval of new plays here at DePaul. So as we enter these next few days together, we celebrate so many voices, past and present, who make this moment possible. I am thinking of the eight people in that room that first day, Karen, José Luis Valenzuela, Lisa Portes, Anne García Romero, Tlaloc Rivas, Antonio Sonera, Enrique Urueta, and Kristoffer Diaz, and the original steering committee that put together the first convening, and the scholars who have been tracking the history, and the timeline, and Brian Herrera writing up that convening in Boston into a beautiful book that will be forever with us. And the incredible work of commons producer Abigail Vega and HowlRound producer Jamie Gahlon, and the mentors who are with us in spirit, like Irene Fornés. And I am not naming enough names of course because a commons is always all of the names, everyone who is here today, everyone who has written for Café Onda, everyone who has lifted this movement to this moment.
We must find ways to bring the power of our art into the suffering, the opportunity, and the hope before us. So let’s love each other all weekend, embrace these beautiful artists in our midst, and celebrate their stories. And then Monday, let’s sleep in, and Tuesday let’s get back to work.
But we must only celebrate for a little while. The work is still massive. The numbers don’t add up. Our stages, our theatres, our institutions, still don’t look right. They do not represent who we are as a country of rapidly shifting demographics. They are not a reflection of the complexity of the American story. And the racism that greets us every single morning in the news is our responsibility. We must find ways to bring the power of our art into the suffering, the opportunity, and the hope before us. So let’s love each other all weekend, embrace these beautiful artists in our midst, and celebrate their stories. And then Monday, let’s sleep in, and Tuesday let’s get back to work.
José Luis Valenzuela
What an exciting moment, another historic undertaking come to fruition through a common goal that was born out of a conversation in Washington, DC in 2012. Karen Zacarías invited us all to a blind date that year, which lit a fire under us all, and I am here to pass the torch from the city of Los Angeles to the city of Chicago.
In 2013, HowlRound set up a three-day speed dating session for us, and after we reconnected as a national community, we emerged as a commons. In 2014, the Latino Theater Company brought us together for a month long illicit affair at the Encuentro at the LATC, and now here we are at our engagement party, where we will intoxicate ourselves with la palabra (the written word).
As we read these new works, we celebrate their contribution to the new American theatre. Historically, playwrights have illuminated our histories, our struggles, our beauty and our flaws, our dreams, and our triumphs. Over the ages, all that will remain is the word. May the words we hear over the next three days inspire us and future generations, making them true believers of our teatro.
I am so proud to know that the work of the Latina/o Theatre Commons and HowlRound has sparked a flame for the continuation of our quest and for our own self-determination as an artistic community.
I would like to invite Lisa Portes to please join me on stage.
Lisa, I give you a small flame in the middle of your chest. Anytime you feel doubt or fear, let this flame burst and you will feel its warmth and it will ignite your own strength, security, and power. Always keep it with you and pass it along to the next generation of Latino artists.
And to you, the audience, I share these words from our ancestors:
Recuerda que no se vive facilmente en esta tierra.
Pero no olvides, que primeramente tu provienes de alguien,
que tu descien desde alguien,
que tu naciste por Ia gracia de alguien;
que tu aIa vez eres Ia espina y eI retoño de nuestros antepasados,
de aquellos que vinieron antes que nosotros,
y de aquellas y aquellos que se han ido a vivir al mas allá.
Remember, that one does not live easily upon this earth.
But, do not forget that above all,
you have come from someone;
that you are descended from someone;
that you were born by the grace of someone;
that you are both the spine and the offspring of our ancestors;
of those who came before us and of those who have gone on to live in the great beyond.
Thank you. I love you all.
All photos by Michael Courier.