Connecting past and present to build towards the future
I have worked as a theatre artist in Seattle for seven years now. Prior to moving here, I didn’t know I was an artist/person “of color” and didn’t know it would be so necessary for me to find my own spaces for creation. I knew that working professionally in theatre would be difficult, but I had no clue my race and background would be some of the many reasons for this difficulty.
In 2009, sitting at A Contemporary Theatre (ACT) about to see one of my very first plays in this new city, I was browsing the fliers to start learning about other companies and the work being done. There, I found something that truly caught my eye: an Afro Peruvian production that had just closed before I arrived to the city. I decided to reach out anyway, because I wanted to be involved with a company that was doing that kind of work. It was spearheaded by Rose Cano, and that blind email led to a coffee meeting and subsequently, to being part of the founding group of eSe Teatro and three years of collaboration.
While we had the opportunity to express the many challenges faced by Latina/o artists in this region, the conversation ended on acknowledging the power of our shared history and creating opportunities to move the work forward.
In my work with Rose, I have noticed she has truly been a force in putting Seattle Latina/o theatre on the national landscape as well as unifying Latina/o theatre artists in the region. In the past three years, Rose and eSe Teatro have facilitated two Northwest Regional Auditions for Latina/o actors, out of which approximately 85 percent of actors reported finding work. I believe these efforts have heavily contributed to the success of the past Latina/o Theatre Commons Regional Convening in Seattle. Latina/o theatre artists in Seattle are more interconnected than ever, more aware of the national conversation, and more ready to take part in it.
This convening on April 15-17, 2016, not only brought practitioners together who hadn’t intersected before, but also reinforced old connections and re-energized tired souls. On Friday evening, we started with a dramaturgical presentation outlining the history of Latina/o theatre in Seattle. As someone who has only lived here for seven years, it was nourishing to not only hear but to visualize the long trajectory of those before me, thanks to the staged readings of scenes from four of Maria Irene Fornes’ plays. The presentation of a fragment from Letters from Cuba, performed by Erwin Galán and directed by Fernando Luna was a refreshing reminder of the power of cultural specificity in theatre. As a Puerto Rican in Seattle I can comfortably say that the experience I see most represented in Latina/o theatre is the Mexican experience. Also, in many plays with a “Latina/o” character, the country of origin is either not specified or not shared between actor and character. Thus, to hear Erwin Galán’s Cuban accent while performing Letters from Cuba was not only refreshing but made the words more powerful and ring more true. It was re-affirming to start the convening by building bridges connecting the successes, the politics, and the legacy of past and present Latina/o theatremakers in this region.
On Saturday, artists came together to discuss the challenges and opportunities of the region, facilitated by the LTC Steering Committee. These conversations created a common ground for the artists who hadn’t met before the convening, instantly building a sense of community and power within that community. While we had the opportunity to express the many challenges faced by Latino/a artists in this region, the conversation ended on acknowledging the power of our shared history and creating opportunities to move the work forward.
Saturday evening most conveners went to Seattle Repertory Theatre to see brownsville song (b-side for tray) followed by a reception hosted by Umbrella Project. This event was important in introducing our out-of-town visitors to the work currently being done in Seattle as well as providing conveners with an informal platform to discuss aesthetics, taste, and their individual work while building connections.
On the last day, we focused on moving forward. During this session, once again, we briefly discussed our wishes and needs as a community in Seattle. Suggestions went from making sure you include the year in your fliers and posters to more transparency in “payment brackets” within Latina/o theatre companies. Ultimately, we were able to land on some exciting ideas and initiatives to continue our legacy and strengthen our presence in the region. These were:
- A collaboration between eSe Teatro and Teatro Puente (aka eSe Puente) to produce staged readings in the ferry ride from Seattle to Victoria. These readings will be done bilingually and the project was titled Readings Crossing Borders.
- An initiative to start criticism of Latina/o work in the region with a commitment to write one article every three months.
- To make a more conscious effort to keep this community connected by creating a Facebook group and showing up to each other’s projects
While these initiatives may look like small steps, I believe they are huge strides towards ensuring a vibrant Latina/o theatre in the PNW. May we all be able to continue riding on the energy gathered from this convening to commit to each other and to continue pushing the work forward.