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The Longer We Live

Somewhere around 2:00 p.m. on Thursday, 14 March, I hustled down Tremont Street in Boston, swinging my bag from one shoulder to the other to equally distribute the weight. I blocked the sun from the screen on my phone, checking the directions and thinking “I’m going to be late….como siempre.” It was too early to check in to my hotel anyway, so I took a right on Stuart and left on Washington Street. It was cold in the wind tunnel created by Boston’s narrow streets, but I pulled my sweater closer and picked up the pace until I caught sight of the twinkling lights of the Paramount Theatre, where I would spend the next three days attending the tenth anniversary convening of the Latinx Theatre Commons (LTC).

I ascended the dark wood staircase and checked in. I was given a nametag and told to pick stickers; the color-coding of said stickers was explained to me. Each color corresponds with your role—actor, writer, producer, director, etc. I picked a pink sticker and an orange sticker. Playwright and performer. I promptly forgot which color represented which role. I picked up a program and a sticker with silver block letters that spelled out the word “transform.” Upon learning that I was not late after all, I ran across the street to grab a cafecito before the opening ceremonies.

When the ceremony was over, a sense of calm filled the space, and opening ceremonies were officially underway.    

The black box theatre was filled with chairs that made concentric circles, and it was nearly impossible to get anyone to sit down. It was like the first day of school, but the friendliest and warmest school imaginable. Old friends reunited, and the newest members were welcomed. There was laughter and handshakes that turned into hugs. The room was loud, and like many others I was caught up in conversations and didn’t hear that we were being called to take a seat. I found one that was open in the outermost circle.

Ronee Penoi, interim executive director of the Emerson College Office of the Arts and director of artistic programming for ArtsEmerson, welcomed everyone and introduced herself as a member of the HowlRound and Emerson College community, as well as a member of the Laguna Pueblo and Cherokee tribes. Ronee welcomed Maria and Teddy Hendricks to the center of the circle to begin our weekend together with a smudge ceremony.

Maria and Teddy Hendricks are members of the Mashpee Wampanoag and Assonet tribes of Indigenous people. They explained the significance of the ceremony, the cleansing of our spirits and of the space that we would gather in for the next three days. The couple took care of those present, as they grounded us in the four directions, north, south, east, and west, burning sage and moving throughout the concentric circles while the smoke filled the room. As Teddy performed the ritual and explained the ceremony in English, Maria translated in Spanish. When the ceremony was over, a sense of calm filled the space, and opening ceremonies were officially underway.

A woman with long dark hair stands in front of a microphone.

Jacqueline Flores speaking at the Latinx Theatre Commons Tenth Anniversary Convening. Photo by Anna Olivella.

Jacqueline Flores, producer of the LTC, laid out the expectations that would carry through the next three days. First, upon introducing themselves, each person should begin with name, pronouns (if you chose to use them), and the answer to the following question: “What was your entry point to the LTC?”

Jacqueline assured all that this could be any milestone—joining the Facebook group, attending an event, or whatever way one wished to define their first time interacting with the Latinx Theatre Commons. For Jacqueline, it was while writing her college thesis in 2017. She went on to describe the commons model, explaining that there were no financial or experiential barriers.

“If you are here, you’re in the commons, and we’re so happy you’re here.”

Jacqueline is an inherently charismatic and comedic speaker. After laughter erupted in a part of her speech that revealed she graduated from high school ten years ago, she interrupted the laughs, dryly stating, “The hold for laughter was not in my script, so I’m just going to keep going.”

Within a minute the room was silenced, as Jacqueline expressed why her youth was so significant to this moment, and why it would be for future generations of Latinx artists that will come together to tell stories:

I will forever be indebted to the artists and changemakers who gathered in [Washington] DC and dared to imagine a world that did not yet exist. So that future generations could not only reach glass ceilings but break them. And so that a Latina like me could one day stand in front of all of you under shattered glass.

As part of her “entry point to the LTC” story, Jacqueline mentioned the moment that she met then-LTC producer Abigail Vega at a Theatre Communications Group conference seven years ago. Upon accepting the Peter Sisler Award, Abigail said the LTC was “created to make our own table instead of being invited to join one.”

A group of people sit on chairs listening to a speaker.

Alison Vasquez James Montaño, Graciela Femenia, Noe Montez, and Juliana Frey-Méndez, and Victoria Zepeda at the Latinx Theatre Commons Tenth Anniversary Convening. Photo by Anna Olivella.

The hour that followed was full of stories of building tables and shattering glass.

Playwright, translator, and scholar Anne García-Romero was called upon to introduce Karen Zacarías, who shared the origin story of the LTC. Anne recalled an email she received in April of 2012 from Karen and P. Carl. The letter was an invitation, to join with other Latine artists for two days in Washington, DC to have a discussion “al calzón quitado, to talk about the challenges and possibilities of being us in the [United States].”

When Karen entered the circle to share her story, she expanded on the origin and impetus of this first meeting. Arena invited her to be a playwright-in-residence along with four other playwrights, who, according to Karen, at the time had rather prolific and impressive credits. Upon receiving this residency, Karen’s first thought was “Shit.”

The opportunity brought with it a sense of isolation. She was the only Latine playwright. She was the only local playwright. And she was a mother. Her father, an activist, taught her that it does not matter if you are happy, but if you are doing the most good for the most people. Karen used the resources provided by this residency to form that first focus group of eight people that met for two days, where they spoke openly, and honestly, or, como dice Karen, al calzón quitado.

The result of that meeting was an invitation to build together. To explore the complexity of the Latine experience in the United States from a Latine perspective.

The LTC created a space that bore new organizations and movements that have shaped the landscape of American Theatre over the past ten years.

One by one, members from the early days of the LTC stepped to the microphone to tell their stories, each individual recalling the very moment they joined the Latinx Theatre Commons. It became evident that the LTC created a space that bore new organizations and movements that have shaped the landscape of American Theatre over the past ten years. I began to realize the true influence that the LTC has had on my work and development as an artist. The plays and playwrights who have influenced my writing were a part of and founded this community. The tables that I have been invited to were built by its members, tables that simply did not exist ten years ago. 

The hour would not go by without some sort of collaboration and creation. Roxanne Shroeder-Arce, associate dean of UTeach fine arts at the University of Texas at Austin, led the group in exercises where we could all get to know one another. First, we were to find someone we did not know whose nametag stickers matched our own. We introduced ourselves and had a brief conversation. My partner and I misunderstood the assignment, so we paired according to the color of our shirt, not the stickers. We also forgot the color code of the stickers. Pairs joined other pairs, and larger groups were formed and introduced.

The next exercise was to create a circle around the room in alphabetical order. I found the only other person in the room whose name began with the letter “I,” and we had two minutes to share how we got our respective names. Next a new circle was formed, this time chronologically according to “when you entered the LTC.” I… could not remember. My first LTC event was the Comedy Carnaval in 2022, but I’d known about the LTC since 2016 and had been a part of the Facebook group. I placed myself in the 2022 group. Finally, we formed groups according to what region of the country we were from. The existential crisis continued to build: I started my career and continue to work in Philadelphia. I was born in New Jersey and still spend a lot of time there. I live and work in New York. Luckily, all these regions became one appropriately named “Amtrak.” I may be biased, but I believe this region had quite the original name.

Our own personal insecurities and questions are not what matters. What matters is that we gather to lift each other up.

We went back to our seats for some words from playwright, performer, professor, and Bostonian Melinda Lopez, regarding her memory of the first convening in Boston in 2013. What she remembered from that day was that she was late “como siempre” (a kindred spirit, I thought). When asked to join a group according to how long you’d been in the industry, she wasn’t sure where to go (a sentiment I’d felt during the “what region are you from” grouping a few moments before). She expressed awe at being in the room with great Latine theatremakers—artists like Irma Mayorga and Luis Alfaro and Josefina López. She reflected upon the insecurities, wondering if she belonged in the circle: “I’m scared I’m an imposter. I’m scared I’m not Latina enough to be in this room, but I’m not American enough to thrive outside of this room.”

I felt like she was robbing the thoughts right out of my head. Melinda landed on the fact that our own personal insecurities and questions are not what matters. What matters is that we gather to lift each other up.

She closed with a story about the altar that was constructed for the convening in 2013. It was full of photos and objects and a Milagro—a Sacred Heart—that Josefina Lopez placed on the altar. As they were taking the altar apart on the last day, Josefina handed it to Melinda and said she should have it. Melinda kept the object in her office for the past ten years and held it up to show everyone as she told the story of the first convening.

A woman in pink stands at a microphone addressing a crowd.

Melinda Lopez speaking at the Latinx Theatre Commons Tenth Anniversary Convening. Photo by Anna Olivella.

Melinda remembered the day as a snowy one. A beautiful, snowy day. The city was quiet, and it was the blizzard that kept her from getting to the convening on time. But in fact, when she looked up the weather report for 31 October 2013, it wasn’t snowing at all. It was a perfect day, sunny and mid-fifties. Maybe none of it happened. Maybe she dreamed it.

The rest of the afternoon in the black box, we walked around looking at the timeline of Latine theatre, posters and postcards, sticky notes and playbills taped to butcher paper on the wall. All were welcomed to add to it, as the timeline expanded into the 2010s and 2020s. Evelina Fernandez and José Luis Valenzuela, the self-proclaimed elders, led the group in adding to the timeline and stressed the importance of documenting the history of Latine theatre—both of the past and that which is happening now.

“This country is about the individual,” José Luis stated, “But we are the people. We are the movement.”

That evening we gathered a few blocks from the Paramount at Empire Garden, a Chinese restaurant. In what appeared to be an old theatre, guests sat at round tables according to their Chinese Zodiac, which ensured intergenerational mixing. Once again, we were encouraged (dare I say required) to come up with a movement, sound, short performance that represented our given group. I’d like to say the snakes were the best table, but the pigs were a close second.

A woman examines a collaged wall of papers.

Roxanne Schroeder-Arce at the Latinx Theatre Commons Tenth Anniversary Convening. Photo by Anna Olivella.

Throughout the weekend I thought about that first day—the opening ceremonies where we spiritually grounded ourselves in north, south, east and west as we discussed where we were, where we are, and where we are going. Where we reflected on the importance of our history and our memories.

“So what will I remember, ten years from now?” I thought. Will it be the timeline? Will it be the James Baldwin poem that Karen Zacarías quoted on the first day, or the feeling of standing under shattered glass? Will it be dreaming and scheming in black box theatres and Boston bars? Will we still be having the same discussions ten years from now, or will it all seem like a dream? A beautiful dream.



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Thoughts from the curator

The LTC Tenth Anniversary Convening was a celebration of the last ten years, a reflection on the LTC's learnings and successes thus far, and an opportunity to discuss the future of the LTC and have field-wide discussions. This series features documentation and reflections from attendees. 

Latinx Theatre Commons Tenth Anniversary Convening


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