Estamos Juntos / We are Together
Report-Outs from the Latinx Theatre Commons International Convening
Sunday, 12 November 2017: Day Four of the Encuentro de las Américas International Convening. Four fire alarms went off during the 2:00 p.m. matinee, right in the middle of the shows running concurrently in four theatres of the LATC. It turned out they were false alarms, set off by a fog machine in one of the theatres, but they paused the performances long enough to push the 4:00 start time for the Encuentro’s final Large Group meeting to 4:30. The one-hour meeting of all the Latinx Theatre Commons (LTC) Convening participants needed to be shortened to thirty minutes, so that the 5:30 p.m. show had its half hour to prep the stage. This could not be delayed, as the 7:00 p.m. dinner and closing ceremonies needed to start on time and conclude by 9:00 p.m., when a film crew was scheduled to arrive!
The more than two hundred and sixty Encuentro participants had been divided into twelve groups of about twenty people each who met three times over the Convening weekend. For several participants, this was their first time at an LTC event, or in LA, or in the United States, and these small groups were social circles in which to touch base, discuss the performances we were watching, or learn about each other’s practices and the circumstances in which we work. The large group meeting would be the first and only time all weekend when everyone would be present and able to share their thoughts together. But now we only had a half hour to do this.
Alex Meda, our MC, thanked all of us for our patience and flexibility, reminded us that each of the twelve groups had three minutes to share their thoughts, and encouraged us to cut it down to two. And… Go!
Each small group was identified by a Latin dance or musical genre, and just as diverse were the ways in which each group chose to share their ideas. There were reports, charts, performances, calls to action, mime, and chants. The statements in bold below indicate some of the ideas that got applause, laughter, or special appreciation from the crowd.
Cumbia took the stage first, while Mariachi was on deck, with Armando Huipe reporting on behalf of the group. Day One, Thursday, they conducted exercises that involved looking at systems, how they work, and how to create systemic change. On Day Two, Friday, the group engaged in critical discussions about the shows they had seen, and Day Three, Sunday, brought a spirited conversation about misogyny, transphobia, homophobia (more to be named), and the ways in which women had been represented on stage. A question arose that the group wanted to pose to everyone: What is our responsibility, if any, as artists, to our politic and how we represent misogyny, racism, queerness, transphobia, class, ability, and so on? How do we hold ourselves accountable to our politic?
The Mariachi group came up next, standing in a semicircle. One sole note emerged from a lone harmonica, and Mariachi began softly stomping and chanting, raising the sound until they declared: “The Mariachi Manifesto!” Andrea Porras stepped up to the mic and began: “We commit to broadening our aesthetics and bringing more gente into our circulo!” “Boom!” replied the rest of the group. “To advocate for each other, every chansa we get!” “Boom!” “We commit to stop dividing, we commit to spotlighting the voces que hacen falta! We call for a commitment to mentorship!” “Mentorship!” “We deconstruct fronteras with our willingness to do cursi things!” “Cursi!” “We call on our universities to leverage resources, to cultivate new aesthetics and Latinx theatre!” “Boom!” “¡Todos somos el cambio, raza! Boom!
Next up, Carla Della Gatta asked that they be timed in thirty-second increments so that each person of Joropo had equal time to speak. She started by expressing gratitude for the small groups and the intentional planning, “for allowing us to meet a diverse group of people within our own convening.” The first day yielded these single words: ensemble, women, expression, diversity, design, empowerment, peace, building relationships, new artistry, peace connection, identity.” Individually, each member shared recommendations for future consideration: How can we prepare as individuals before the convenings? Transparency. We’d like the voices of designers to be present in the room. Let us know the dates of the 2018 Carnaval so that we can prioritize this event (19-21 July 2018). Questions arose: What are we trying to achieve, is it for artists, is it for the exchange of ideas? Thinking about equity, diversity and inclusion, can we create workshops for those who can’t take three weeks off? How about gender-neutral restrooms? How can we use languages beyond the English-Spanish binary? Indigenous and sign languages? Beatriz Rizk called for the Latin American festival tradition of Q&A sessions after the performances, when the actors can talk about the craft.
Diane Rodriguez introduced the Bolero group, who formed a line one behind the other. Each one walked up to the mic to pose more questions to the group: Was the Carnaval’s curatorial process working? How is success measured in the long term? Who is the Encuentro for—is it a conference or convening? Do we have a shared understanding of what success is? ¿Que estamos haciendo para que el festival sea accesible e internacional? Is the schedule overwhelming? Should we review the way that supertitles are used, translated, and placed? What does a production gain or lose by touring? What is a scholar? How do we talk about problematic works in a constructive way, keeping in mind that what might be problematic in one country might not be problematic in another?
Samba changed the mood, as all the members came up to the stage and began to hum. Hummmmmmm. One tossed out a phrase, that was echoed by some of the others. “Challenge the sacred; Inclusivity/exclusivity.” A vocal chorus emerged, with Richard Pérez serving as the conductor. “Colaboraciones internacionales; imaginacion y trabajo corporal que hable; demolishing gates, differences of countries within countries, diversas poéticas, diversas estéticas, tumbar los muros, opening doors.” The echoes were supportive voices, until a cacophony broke out, when one voice said, “You are my elder and I admire you, but the work is not done.” To which, another voice replied, “We are listening.” The phrases grew in number, volume, and intensity, rolling like a run-away train. But the conductor was able to rein in the argument, bringing the group back their hummmm. The final set of phrases were, “Consciencia primero, consciousness first.”
How do we decolonize our Latinx spaces? We need to heal from our white institutions and reclaim and disrupt white spaces without being apologetic. Where do we go from here?
Next, the Bomba eight stepped up to the stage holding up large sheets of paper with bulleted points: What still needs to be said? Access to funding, how to work within the orange economy and the orange industry. Intergenerational audiences and dialogue. Art as art. The work is as diverse as the community that it is from. How do we decolonize our Latinx spaces? We need to heal from our white institutions and reclaim and disrupt white spaces without being apologetic. Where do we go from here? Young voices need to be part of the planning. But, what is young? It is not just age. What else is needed? Resources to digest the work, takeaways. Everything that still needs to be said.
Chantal Rodriguez introduced Huayno’s abstract performance—with a few new participants, they were going to “wing it.” They began milling about feverishly, stomping, rushing, waving, looking disoriented, looking for signs. The audience laughed as they recognized the Encuentro experience! Soon, they formed two lines and in pairs played out the encounters that had become so familiar to us over the weekend, the hugs of colleagues and friends who hadn’t seen each other in too long, the handshakes, introductions and translations, common phrases such as, “It’s in the app!” and, “My neck hurts!” (referring to viewing the supertitles if one was in the front rows of the theatre). It was joyful. Finally, they formed a big circle, inhaled and exhaled three times together, and affirmed, “Aqui estamos. We are here.” And they repeated the phrase in sign language.
All of this was happening as fast as possible, with everyone checking their watches (OK, smart phones), because the concern was that some of the groups would not have their opportunity to share their thoughts. Tango jumped up, Adriana Gaviria inviting each to offer their statements on the need for more voices, more conversations, and targeted conversations about the art form. “The discussions about race and diversity are not just a US conversation.” The need for space to talk back with the artists, to continue the conversation after the Convening. The need for quiet rooms, for retreat. Perhaps a marketplace for the artists. A buddy system for first-timers. Hacernos disponibles unos con otras como artistas y académicas para obtener el lenguaje crítico que todas necesitamos para conversar más profundamente sobre cómo hacemos nuestra arte Radical inclusion. “One point of common ground we discovered is that we all struggle to produce work in our communities. We will take this knowledge to fortify our work.”
Daniel Jaquez and Alyssa Ramos came next, with everyone of Salsa standing behind them, arms around each other’s shoulders. Their lists were read in English, then translated into Spanish, and sometimes vice-versa! I realized that I was typing as fast as I could to capture as many ideas and images as possible, but with the sequential translation, which repeated the ideas presented, I was able to capture more of their questions: How can we replicate this Latinx experience in our communities? If we believe in the principles of justice, how can we work to create a more just society? Where is gender parity? How do we address the prevalence of sexism and sexual violence in our work? How are we all gatekeepers? How do we ask for help, how do we give it? Can we envision an LTC mentorship sytem? How do we dismantle colorism at our Encuentro and in our communities? Can we create intentional space to address harm, including micro-aggressions and triggers experienced during plays and panels? How do we dismantle the narrative about what scholarship and success looks like?
Bossa Nova added more thoughts for consideration, shared by Tiffany Vega-Gibson: We need to have a dialogue about Spanish and how we shame people who don’t speak Spanish. We need new models for panel discussion that are not Eurocentric. What would an international Steering Committee look like? We need to explore the mixed-race perspective in teatro, that’s very different from mestizo. Let’s talk about Encuentro Global. What does an international Fuego initiative look like? And we need to archive, archive, archive!
Arlene Martinez Vickers represented for Bachata, sharing where they had found common ground: Their appreciation for the intersections of Latinx and Latin American theatre, for the urgency to engage the community to see theatre as a right and as activism. There was the desire for deeper conversations, and to engage further. The common thread of tiredness. Language is an essential element of theatre, and mixing languages can affect audiences differently with their different tempos, cadences, implications. The experience of feeling seen like never before. Also, in the work, seeing a tendency to remove specific culture influences for international presentations. The need for a space for practical engagement, to understand work, methods, philosophies. It was fast!
Last but not least, Reggaeton dispersed themselves all over the stage, seemingly unconnected, as reggaeton music began to play on the PA. Marissa Béjar stepped up to the mic and asked, “What can we do together that we can’t do alone?” Josean Ortiz echoed “¿que podemos hacer juntos que no se puede hacer solo?” One by one the dispersed stepped up to the mic and made offers. “I come Sacramento and I bring a contemporary female indigenous perspective.” “I come from Puerto Rico and I bring my queerness.” As each one stepped away from the mic, they went back upstage, to lean against each other in the formation of a human bridge or tunnel, through which the next speaker would emerge to speak into the mic: “I come from CAATA and I bring a commitment to all our liberation!” “I come from Oregon and I bring Theatre for Young Audiences.” “I come from New Mexico and I bring a recognition for young artists as equals.” “I come from Arabs and Mestizos, I am American, and I bring responsibility and gratitude.” “I come from Staten Island and I bring my heart.” “I come from Canada and I bring a passion for innovative storytelling.” “I come from California and I have something to say!” “I come from Mexico, New York, and I bring balls to your storytelling.” “I come from Brooklyn and I bring hard work and dedication!” After everyone had spoken and joined the tunnel/bridge, they leaned in, supporting each other’s weight as they crouched down and then rose up asking their original question in English, then Spanish. They clasped hands and formed a chain that reached forward to take the hands of members of the audience, and welcomed them to join them on stage. Together, we began to chant and clap, “Estamos juntos, estamos juntos, estamos juntos…” The chant, the clapping, stomping, the joy, filled the theatre and brought this large group meeting to a rousing close, just a little past 5:00.