Latino Theater In New Mexico—Still Going Strong After 400+ Years!

According to theater historian Brian Herrera, when the first expedition arrived from Mexico in 1598 to establish a permanent Spanish settlement in what is now New Mexico, almost the first thing they did was stage a theatrical performance. That’s a pretty long history for Latino theater! The first entry on the timeline at the Latino/a Theatre Convening last weekend might have been “1598, New Mexico.” Now, over 400 years later, with 47 percent of the state’s population identifying as Hispanic or Latino, it should not be a surprise that we have some amazing Latino theater here.

skyline mountains and homes in Santa Fe, New Mexico
Santa Fe, New Mexico

Among the Latino/a playwrights whose work has been performed in New Mexico in the last few years are: Luis Álfaro, Rudolfo Anaya, Elaine Avila, Gregg Barrios, Law Chavez, Patricia Crespín, Nilo Cruz, Georgina H. Escobar, Anne Garcia-Romero, Silvia González S., Brian Herrera, Manuel Igrejas, Barney Lopez, Josefina Lopez, Leonard Madrid, Elsa Menéndez, Elaine Romero, Octavio Solis, Caridad Svich, José Torres Tama, Luis Valdez, and many more. Several of these are New Mexico writers who received the Kennedy Center Latino Playwriting Award.

Perhaps the most important company in the recent history of Albuquerque Latino theatre was La Compañía de Teatro de Alburquerque which was started by Jose Rodriguez in 1977 and continued for more than twenty years. But now I’d like to introduce you to the currently active Latino theater companies in Albuquerque and Santa Fe:

  • Working Classroom has been nurturing new voices and creating theater that is innovative, culturally diverse, socially accountable, and economically affordable since 1988. They see themselves as a multi-ethnic rather than a strictly Latino company. In 2011 they were the recipients of the Otto René Castillo Award for Political Theatre. Their program features professional training in English and Spanish; teaching, playwriting, and directing residencies; an ensemble theatre company; and local, national, and international touring. Their 2013 summer production was Octavio Solis’s Dreamlandia, directed by Mónica Sánchez.
     
  • Teatro Nuevo México, founded in 2003, is a theater company in residence at the National Hispanic Cultural Center (NHCC). It performs plays by Latina/o and Spanish playwrights as well as zarzuelas, with the goal of building opportunities for positive representation and preservation of Latino cultures, and nurturing Latina/o talent in the performing arts. Their 2013 show was The Boxcar/El Vagón by Silvia González S., directed by Salomé Martinez Lutz.
     
  • Las Meganenas (“the big girls”) is a troupe of Latinas who believe that they hold a unique position in society, that of storytellers, and that through storytelling a culture’s values, beliefs, and spirituality are conveyed indelibly to the listeners’ imaginations, allowing them to put themselves in others’ shoes. Since 2003, Las Meganenas have been telling stories through performance pieces related to global issues, such as their signature piece Río de Lágrimas. This trilingual (Spanish/English/Nahuatl), multimedia work is based on the story of La Malinche, her transformation into the legendary La Llorona, the Wailing Woman, and her travels to the U.S./Mexico border, where she mourns the disappearance and death of thousands of women maquiladora workers.
     
  • Teatro Paraguas was begun in Santa Fe in 2004. Its mission is to promote Hispanic and Latino poetry, literature, and theater through bilingual presentations of classic and contemporary works, celebrating the history, richness, and diversity of Hispanic and Latino cultures. They produce a poetry performance series which honors Hispanic and Latina/o poets through dramatic presentations of their poetry; classic and contemporary plays, including works by New Mexico playwrights; a cuento series, which brings traditional Hispanic folk tales to life on the stage; and Spanish language productions onstage and as radio theater.
     
  • Camino Real Productions is a company I founded in 2006 and it, too, is a company in residence at the National Hispanic Cultural Center (NHCC). We produce intimate, character-driven plays by Latina/o playwrights that reflect the Center’s mission of representing various aspects of Hispanic culture. Our most recent productions were world premieres of Anne García-Romero’s Paloma in 2012 and Elaine Romero’s Secret Things directed by Valli Marie Rivera in 2013.
     
  • Nueva Bohemia, a theater company previously based in New York City, is in the process of reorganizing in Albuquerque under the artistic direction of Rafael Gallegos, who is also organizing a new Latino student theater group at the University of New Mexico.

Most of these companies have, at one time or another, performed at the National Hispanic Cultural Center’s magnificent Roy E. Disney Center for Performing Arts (REDCPA), which opened its doors in 2004. Its inaugural performance was the twenty-fifth anniversary touring production of Luis Valdez’s Zoot Suit. This was an amazing production and an extraordinary experience, with both Luis Valdez and the late Lalo Guerrero here for the opening. Ten years later, I’m still using my Zoot Suit lanyard as my key ring!  

During 2014-2015, as part of the tenth anniversary celebration of the REDCPA, the NHCC will host a season-long Latino Theatre Festival, with a Latino theater production staged each month from September through July. Some of these will be revivals of “NHCC’s Greatest Hits,” while others will be new. Among the shows scheduled to date are a production by Teatro Paraguas in September, a revival of Teatro Nuevo México’s production of The Boxcar/El Vagón in October, Camino Real’s new production of Quiara Alegría Hudes’ 26 Miles in November, a revival of Rudolfo Anaya’s Bless Me, Ultima in March, and additional performances. If you have a production that you would be interested in bringing to the NHCC for the festival, you can contact joseph.wassonjr@state.nm.us. The REDCPA has three theaters: the large Albuquerque Journal Theatre with 691 seats; the medium-sized Bank of America Theatre seating 291; and the intimate Wells Fargo Auditorium seating 97.

 

Now, over 400 years later, with 47 percent of the state’s population identifying as Hispanic or Latino, it should not be a surprise that we have some amazing Latino theater here.

 

Albuquerque is considered the Live Theater Capital of the Southwest, with over fifty theater companies of all sorts. You can find information about the companies listed above and others on the Albuquerque Theatre Guild’s website, www.abqtheatre.org .

Inspired by the recent Latina/o Theatre Commons Convening at HowlRound in Boston, several of us have started working to form an organization of Latino theater companies and theater artists here in New Mexico.  We’re excited about what we can contribute to New Mexico’s long history of teatro Latino!

 

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This is so terrific and I hope I can make my way to Albuquerque soon (perhaps part of a multi-generational Berkman visit). Linda, did I miss you in Boston somehow?

A multigenerational Berkman visit to Abq! Can't think of anything I'd like better. You missed me in Boston because I wasn't there. Poor Brian Herrera had to represent NM all by himself even though he's left us for Princeton. Now we're busy starting our own NM latino/a theatre organization. We'd discovered a couple of other companies or companies in the developmental stage so soon we'll have 8 or 9. Maybe they'll invite NM to the next convening!

Two additional Latin@ theatre companies getting started in New Mexico: Teatro La Cienega in Silver City and Wize Latina Productions in Las Vegas!!! That brings us up to 8 in New Mexico.

Linda, thank you so much for sharing this information. Finding out about what is happening across the country, specific to Latina/o theatre and for the community at large, is what gets me excited. I look forward to reading more about each company you mentioned and the year-long celebration of Latina/o theatre in the great state of New Mexico. Abrazos.

Wonderful article! Because you are so thorough, it is my pleasure to introduce your readers to the work of Latina playwright, Christina Hjelm. She is one of the first women to win the National Kennedy Center (KCACTF) Latino/a Playwriting Award you mention. Her play, Casualties of Dreams and Sand, was directed by Valli Rivera in Albuquerque, NM at UNM's Experimental Theatre, in 2012. Here is her synopsis: " the story of a squatter's fight to hold onto a dying dream in today's America of economic crisis and soldiers returning from sand. Casualties is a drama with comedic elements that deals with issues of class, isolation, and betrayal."

Led by Don Juan de Oñate, the so-called "last conquistador" and leader of the expedition to establish New Mexico in 1598, a contingent of approximately 600 mestizo settlers, soldiers, vaqueros, men, women and children from Zacatecas staged two plays on horseback on the banks of Rio Grande. One was "Los Moros y Los Cristianos," the other was "La Conversion de los Cuatro Reyes de Tlaxcala." To this day "Los Morismos" (i.e. Los Moros Y Cristianos) are still performed annually on the central plateau of Mexico in the surrounding mountains of the capitol city of Zacatecas. The spectacle involves hundreds of actors and thousands of spectators watching the battle unfold up and down the foothills.

The enduring immensity of this event speaks to the evangelistic fervor that the Conquistadores brought to the New World as the Moors were driven out of Spain in 1492. Obviously, this religious conflict is still with us today. All of which means that the roots of Latino Theatre in the United States not only run deep; they are as vital and relevant today as they were more than four hundred years ago. The truth is that New Spain was already laying the foundations of American theatre while Shakespeare was still writing plays. New England, New Spain, and New France are all still current sources of American culture, together with Africa, Asia and Native America. So Latinos are hardly just another ethnicity; they come in all colors because they embody the genetic and cultural fusion of the melting pot of America. And they are bringing this continental vitality to the American theatre.