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Our Digital Present

In 2013, when the first national convening of the the Latinx Theatre Commons (LTC) gathered in Boston, the launch of Café Onda at cafeonda.com as the online journal of the LTC gathered much interest and enthusiasm. There, Tlaloc Rivas, the co-chair of the national convening steering committee affirmed that vision by saying, “The dream is to make Café Onda a home page for all of us.”

It has been almost a year since last year’s convening and, in that time, the work toward manifesting the dream of Café Onda has been swift and profound. An editorial board has been assembled; a managing editor hired; and a logo designed. Content has been seeded and published. Since Café Onda’s quiet launch just a few months ago, more than twenty-five pieces have appeared, with a dozen or so others in the pipeline for the coming weeks. Indeed, in this remarkably short span of time, Café Onda now stands as a dynamic forum for the contemporary voices and visions of Latina/o theatermaking in the United States and beyond, providing a digital space for culturally competent commentary on contemporary Latina/o theater practice while also offering a hospitable platform for the sharing of news and diverse opinion about current events, trends, and practices within Latina/o theatermaking.

Even so, the community of Latina/o theater-makers that is the LTC has emphatically and persistently called for digital resources that Café Onda is simply not equipped to provide. I was reminded of this recently, when I attended the visioning session for the Sol Project held in New York City this past August. (The Sol Project is producer Jacob Padron’s brainchild, an inspired vision of a production collaborative dedicated to presenting the work of contemporary Latina/o dramatists on NYC stages.) As I sat in that Sol Project circle, I listened to Latina/o theatermakers express their craving for myriad modes of digital connectivity, a hunger that echoed what I heard at last fall’s convening. Indeed, I hear these voices every time I gather with other Latina/o theatermakers and the conversation turns to “what we need.”

Everyone agrees we need more culturally competent critics and better ways of knowing what’s going on nationally. Beyond that, though, these voices elaborate disparate visions. Some conjure an online archive for both contemporary and historical Latina/o theater, capable of linking to dramaturgical resources supporting both production and educational initiatives. Other voices imagine digital mechanisms permitting geographically-separated artists to collaborate with each other and reach new audiences. Still other voices call for artist-driven data-mapping options to identify the legions of Latina/o theater artists, educators, scholars, advocates, and audiences so as to leverage that data in advocacy, networking, and fundraising initiatives at both local and national levels. And all these varied voices come together in chorus (as they did in session after session at the 2013 convening) to express the urgent need for a freely accessible, interactive, and searchable digital platform that might provide current and easily updated information about contemporary Latina/o theater professionals, in tandem with a current listing of productions, companies, and relevant opportunities of artistic, educational, and community engagement.

As I have reflected on our community’s persistent and consistent call for greater digital connectivity (far more than what Café Onda can realistically provide at this moment), I find that I want to both witness the clarity of these visions and to answer these voices with what I hope is a reasonable challenge.

As we continue to forcefully call forth our vision of the kind of digital platforms we want, need, and deserve, we could simply wait for someone to come along and say: “Hello! I’d like to build this dynamic and interactive online database for you. It will map all Latina/o theater activity at any given moment, anywhere and everywhere. You’ll be able to add portfolio materials to your easily updated bio and download aggregate user data at will. Plus the platform will provide unlimited hosting capacity for archival and educational materials, including streaming video. And it will be free! When do I start?” Yeah. We could wait for that to happen. (By the by, if you happen to be an adventurous philanthropist intrigued by this prospect, please know that any member of the LTC Steering Committee would be pleased to discuss it further with you.)

But the LTC has not been known to wait patiently for beneficence to arrive from on high. Rather, the LTC’s many formidable accomplishments have all derived from our creative capacity as Latina/o theatermakers to leverage our existing skills, networks, and partnerships in service of this collective advocacy movement. So how might we continue in that tradition, while building upon Café Onda’s emerging strengths, to expand the “digital present” of the LTC? How might we manifest such a database of contemporary Latina/o theatermakers while also building a dynamic online archive for Latina/o theatermaking in the present and, possibly, in the past? In short, what can we as theatermakers do to chart our own digital present?

Playwright and educator Leonard Madrid modeled one elegant strategy this year when he established New Mexican Playwrights. Using a user-friendly blogging platform, Madrid posts simple profile pages of “writers for performance from and in New Mexico.” Notably, Madrid’s page does not profile Latina/o dramatists exclusively, including diverse writers whose performance work shares a legible commitment to the peoples and communities of New Mexico. Yet should you now want to know about Latina/o playwrights in and from New Mexico, New Mexico Dramatists provides a ready resource—all thanks to Leonard Madrid’s choice to apply his skills, passions, and networks in service of his broader Latina/o theatermaking community.

Leonard Madrid’s example stands as a reminder that, as Latina/o theatermakers craving new modes of digital connectivity, our best resource remains our creative capacity to leverage our own networks, communities, and skillsets to manifest the change we crave. And, while Café Onda likely cannot lead those initiatives, it can help to promote and document them. So, should you find yourself or your collaborators involved in a data mapping project (or a livestreaming performance collaboration, or a virtual archive initiative, or a twitter-meetup), remember to share news of your work by writing about it on Café Onda. Café Onda can’t make all our virtual dreams come true, but this space can celebrate the dynamic creativity and connectivity of Latina/o theatermakers as together we build our digital present.


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