Dallas Latina/o Theatres

Dynamic Collaborations and Audience Expansion

This is the fourth of seven posts in a series about the state of Latina/o theatre in Texas.  In this series, each of the contributing writers presents insight into the happenings, developments, and future of Latina/o theatre and performance in their respective regions.

Dallas is a segregated city. Many neighborhoods and voting districts are drawn along color and economic lines. Dallas County’s racial breakdown is 68.3 percent white, 39 percent Hispanic, 23.1 percent African American, and 5.7 percent Asian. Audiences for cultural events have historically been segregated as well. Thankfully, in the past few years I sense some of this dissipating, largely due to an increase in collaborative productions. Two companies, Teatro Dallas and Cara Mía and one independent artist, Tammy Melody Gomez lead the way. Also notable recently is an effort by mainstream companies to incorporate Latina/o works into their seasons. In 2014, the Dallas Theater Center produced Luis Alfaro’s Oedipus el Rey, directed by Kevin Moriarty, and The Dallas Children’s Theatre produced Roxanne Schroeder-Arce’s Mariachi Girl, directed by Robin Flatt.

two actors and an actress in a fight scene on stage
From left: Philippe Bowgen, Sabina Zuniga Varela, and Daniel Duque-Estrada in Oedipus el Rey at Dallas Theater Center. Photo: Karen Almond.

Like Austin and South Texas, Dallas boasts numerous Latina/o theatre companies and independent artists producing challenging works in both English and Spanish. In the Dallas area, the major players are Teatro Dallas, Cara Mía Theatre Company, Cambalache Teatro en Español, and Teatro Flor Candela.  The most prolific independent artists in the area are the eclectic performer Tammy Melody Gómez, who works state-wide, and actor-writer Rodney Garza, who collaborates with Cara Mía. To the west, in Fort Worth, Artes de la Rosa produces art exhibits, films, and live music as well as theatre performances. TD, CM and Artes all also have summer programs for young audiences.

an actress in a sombrero playing with dolls
Aisha San Román plays Cita in Mariachi Girl at Dallas Children's Theater. Photo: Linda Blasé.

Like Austin and South Texas, Dallas boasts numerous Latina/o theatre companies and independent artists producing challenging works in both English and Spanish.

According to pioneer Cora Cardona, Teatro Dallas’ colorblind casting broke ground several decades ago. Cardona credits Vicki Meek, director of the African-American South Dallas Cultural Center and formerly with the city of Dallas Office of Cultural Affairs (OCA), as the person who opened doors for her in 1985.

I had called and called OCA, trying to get support for establishing a Hispanic theatre company, something that was non-existent in Dallas. Nobody paid attention to me until fortunately, Vicki answered the phone one day. She was not put off by my heavy accent. She listened… Way back then, I began reiterating a sense of Africanist identity visibly or invisibly present in all of Latin America,…—Cora Cardona

In 1988, Cardona produced an adaptation of Don Juan Tenorio with the first area African-American Don Juan, Sammy Chester. This was groundbreaking and laid the foundation for a bond between the Latino and the African-American communities. In 2000, Teatro Dallas and the South Dallas Cultural Center began collaborations that flourished under the leadership of Meek, who, according to Cardona, is generous with sharing space and resources with Latino/a and other smaller resourced companies. This sharing of space also signaled a sharing and expansion of audiences. Cardona speaks enthusiastically:

Teatro Dallas and the South Dallas Cultural center communities have had exciting productions, including hosting our International Theatre Festival, where Dallas audiences saw productions, such as Lorca’s Blood Wedding with no Hispanics, and Shakespeare from an African perspective. —Cora Cardona

two actors on stage
Jamila Marie as Nicolás Guillén’s Mother, Kenny Gardner as the Cuban poet 
Guillén. Teatro Dallas Poetry Dances (Cardona, 2015) Photo: Leticia Alaniz.

In 2015, Teatro Dallas celebrates its thirtieth anniversary celebration. Events will be held at the Dallas Children’s Theatre in another collaboration with its founder and artistic director, Robin Flatt. Both Vicki Meek and Cardona may retire soon, so let’s see who picks up the baton—an issues aptly raised by Meek in the Next Gen National Arts Network.

Meanwhile, independent artist Tammy Melody Gomez also has been working across the lines for the past twenty years.

Because I am a multi-genre artist and also because of my insatiable fascination with interdisciplinary arts practices, I am open to showing and representing as Latina, Chicana, and Tejana wherever my work might be a suitable match with a hosting arts organization. And because my work is predominantly presented in English, and often deals with universal issues and ideas, I have found that my audiences are very often racially and ethnically diverse and also far-ranging in terms of age and educational background…I think it is a powerful thing to choose to present work that addresses issues that affect populations and communities other than the ones you might be categorized by. This is one way to build bridges between cultural groups, and it also happens to expand the audiences for your work. —Tammy Melody Gomez

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Credit: Tammy Gomez.

Gomez’s narrative play, SHE: Bike/Spoke/Love premiered in Fort Worth in 2007 to an eclectic audience comprised of urban cyclists who organized a social ride to the theatre, hip-hop theatre enthusiasts, spoken word/poetry fans, and an assortment of others ranging in age from ten to seventy. The year before, a short dance theatre work, Spillway Sonata commemorated the Katrina/Rita victims and survivors from the previous year’s natural disaster.

It was performed by myself and two other Latina actors/performers at three different venues with quite distinct built-in audiences: 1.) Latino/a theatregoers; 2.) tap and ballet dancers and students; and 3.) indie-DIY environmental and social activist young adults. ….Ironically, there were hardly any African-Americans in any of the audiences for this work… For its tenth anniversary reprise performance…I will do outreach to include African Americans as performers and as audience members. —Tammy Melody Gomez

Shifting gears, Cara Mía Theatre Company is experiencing a tremendous growth burst, one in which audience expansion, in terms of the complexity of the works and the audience attending their shows, is evident through artistic collaborations. By gathering an eclectic group of artists and taking risks into uncharted creative terrain, Cara Mía is reaching and attracting new audiences. Its artistic director, David Lozano, elaborates on the directions in which he sees this company growing to possibly become the first regional Latina/o theatre company in North Texas, one with an expansive cadre of designers, directors, aesthetics and a seasoned ensemble of actors.

Our current season developed out of a fundamental priority, which emerges from the power of the work and the fundamental question: How are we going to evolve? Which for us, the answer emerged as “By challenging ourselves and our audiences.” —David Lozano

Lozano revealed several key discoveries from this exciting past season. The collaboration with Jeff Colangelo’s Prism Co. pushed them into the experimental arena of non-verbal, physical theatre with Teotl, The Sand Show, performed in a warehouse.

a woman holding a rock up to her face
Teotl: The Sand Show, co-presented by Cara Mía Theatre and Prism Co. Photo: Adolfo Cantú-Villarreal-TZOM Films.

Zoot Suit, a regional premiere, expanded them into musical theatre at the Latino Cultural Center. Strong, poetic works by established Latino playwrights such as Jose Rivera (References to Salvador Dali Make Me Hot) and Octavio Solis (Lydia) allowed the actors to exercise their dramatic chops.

Collaboration with the AT&T Performing Arts Center's Elevator Project at the state of the art Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre has given Cara Mía a huge thrust. Long-time critic and editor of Theatre Jones Mark Lowry calls The Elevator Project a “game changer” and a “water shed moment” in Dallas Theatre history. Smaller promising companies were invited to produce at the Wyly’s Studio Theatre, including Cara Mía Theatre Co. and African American Repertory Theatre. CM’s piece for the Project, Octavio Solis´ Lydia, opened at the Wyly and went on to the Latino Cultural Center. By all critical accounts this production marks a high water mark in their history. Further collaboration continues with the Dallas Theater Center, as Lozano and DTC literary editor Lee Trull are currently co-writing Deferred Action, the second part of a trilogy that began with Dreamers, a Bloodline in 2013.

a woman with her arms held out
Stephanie Cleghorn Jasso in Octavio Solis’ Lydia. Cara Mia Theatre Co. Photo: Adolfo Cantu-Villarreal/TZOM Films.

Our two smaller companies that work exclusively in Spanish, Cambalache Teatro and Teatro Flor Candela, recently developed works in alternative venues. The former produced a highly successful version of Arizona in a private home and Flor Candela acquired its own home-workspace in Oak Cliff, a traditionally Hispanic neighborhood. They continue to produce artist-generated monologues, including Mother Theresa written and performed by Carmela Lamberti and Charlie Chaplin written and performed by Carlos Ortega which are physical rather than verbal, even though the 2013 One Act Play Festival at the Latino Cultural Center proved that, given media exposure, Dallas could support Spanish-language theatre.

actress dressed as a nun
Carmela Lamberti. Photo: Teatro Flor Candela.

Lastly, according to Lorenzo Garcia, the chair of University of North Texas’ Deptment of Dance and Theatre, efforts to cultivate younger audiences include sponsoring and hosting Cara Mía’s production of Crystal City 1969 in 2010 and a staged reading of Shroeder-Arce’s Mariachi Girl in 2014, directed and performed by UNT students. Full productions include Lisa Loomer’s Bocón, Nilo Cruz’s Lorca in a Green Dress, Jose Rivera’s Marisol and the 15/16 season opens with Fornes’ Fefu and Her Friends.

It is evident that Latina/o theatre and performance in the Dallas area is expanding rapidly, and artists are looking for ways to create strategic alliances in order to reach out to new audiences.

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Thoughts from the curator

A series of articles detailing different Latinx companies in Texas.

The State of Latina/o Theatre in Texas

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Perhaps the percentages in the demographics reflect something more complex going on. Perhaps there is a segment of the Black population in Dallas that also identifies as Hispanic, and Hispanics who also identify as White, and some who also identify as Black. This complexity, I suspect, plays a significant role in how theaters and theatre artists define and redefine themselves, not only in this region, but across the country. I know that I've felt these cross-cultural nuances influence my work and the work of my colleagues all over.

Excellent long overdue essay on the Teatro scene in Dallas. I've had the privilege of working with most of the companies cited here. But I think there's something amiss in the stats regarding Dallas County demographics. Added together the percentages total 136.1. One of those numbers has to be wrong.