A Snapshot of Latinx Theatre in NYC
The Café Onda Editorial Board asked New York City theatremakers to think on the Big Apple’s landscape of Latina/o/x theatre on the eve of the Latinx Theatre Commons’ New York City Regional Convening. What follows is a snapshot of the scene as experienced by Rebecca Martinez (director and theatremaker), Adriana Gaviria (Actor, Voice-Over Artist, Theatremaker and Creative Producer), and Christina Quintana (playwright and educator).
What are five words that describe your experience in New York Latinx theatre?
Rebecca: Community; Diversity; Strength; Striving; Resilient.
Adriana: Bold; Vibrant; Resilient; Familial and Celebratory!
Christina: Varied; Potent; Inspired; Enchanting; Bold.
What about New York and the communities who live here make Latinx theatre in New York different than other communities and regions?
Rebecca:The first thing that stood out to me when I moved to New York City was how diverse the Latinx theatre community is. I’ve worked with theatremakers who have cultural and personal ties to Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Cuba, Venezuela, Ecuador, Mexico, Argentina, Spain, Nicaragua, Colombia, Chile, Brazil, Guatemala—I could keep going and list every country in America Latina because in the short time I’ve been here, I’ve worked with folks from all over the entire Western Hemisphere. This kind of diversity opens such an important window into our work. Collaborating with people from so many different perspectives, backgrounds, and cultures emphasizes our global connections, enriches and complicates our work, and asks us to look beyond ourselves and out into a larger world.
Adriana: Living in New York is not easy. It’s an expensive, dirty, hard-core, and exhausting city. And yet, it’s thrilling and exciting to be here because of the diversity of cultures and the vibrant artistic community. Those of us that live here have to be fearless and resilient. We have to find the strength within us on a daily basis to keep going and being inspired because once we walk out the door from our cozy, sacred space that we call our home and onto the street, we are bombarded by the city’s feverish energy and unapologetic attitude. There is no luxury of having that private time in a car as you run errands or commute. We are constantly surrounded by each other, and we are literally a few inches from each other everyday as we commute. Something going on in your life? You have to work through it in public because once you leave your place in the morning, you probably are out for the rest of the day lugging everything with you and you won’t get back home till late at night. We cry, we fight, we laugh, we sing, we fall in love, we break up, we grieve, we help each other, we celebrate, and we survive: all in front of each other. And because of this, New York theatre artists, including those who make Latinx theatre in this city, are strong, fearless, resilient, and deeply committed to their craft and acutely aware of the impact they can have on the people who make up this community.
I think when we talk about the larger and more established theatres in New York, using words like ‘the more established theatres’ or ‘the larger Broadway houses’ are descriptors that we should be using, not ‘mainstream.’ Once we begin to do that, it immediately creates a mental shift in us, one of empowerment and recognition of our equal worth as storytellers. We are all the dominant trend now.
How are Latinx/a/o people represented in the “mainstream” theatres in New York? How does Latina/o/x-identified theatre help or hinder this representation?
Rebecca:There have been more companies, such as Signature, Second Stage, the Atlantic, and the Public that have embraced work by Latinx artists. Other companies who do not identify as culturally specific, such as Working Theatre, the 52nd Street Project, the Lark, and Labyrinth, have been developing, producing, and championing the work of Latinx artists for years.
I wish that more of the larger, more-resourced companies who want to highlight Latinx work would partner, with dollars in hand, with the culturally specific companies who are cultivating and nurturing so much of the talent.
Adriana: I think when we talk about the larger and more established theatres in New York, using words like “the more established theatres” or “the larger Broadway houses” are descriptors that we should be using, not “mainstream.” Once we begin to do that, it immediately creates a mental shift in us, one of empowerment and recognition of our equal worth as storytellers. We are all the dominant trend now.
The landscape is changing in these larger and more established institutions, but an accurate representation of Latinx people is still lacking. The reality is that it changes from season to season and is dependent on the vision of those that are in leadership positions at our theatre institutions and on how much the creative leads, once they find themselves in a position of power like directors, producers, playwrights, etc., are willing to fight for a diverse cast and/or design team.
Our Broadway theatres are also primarily focused on financial success and are less willing to take risks on productions that they may feel do not have a proven track record of success, and so the stories that they choose to invest in are not always representative of the diverse community around us. Instead of waiting around for opportunities (or permission) to tell their stories, Latinx theatre artists and Latinx-identified theatres in the city are playing a crucial role in creating spaces for equitable access and visibility by being their own producers and makers. One of the most emotional nights for me on Broadway last year was seeing my friends and colleagues from Miami light up a Broadway stage with the Estefans’ On Your Feet! The Musical. That was a night where my heart was full of mucho orgullo, felicidad, and celebración.
Christina: Not enough! This is why Latinx-identified theatre is important. These wonderful theatres get our stories out into the universe. Even with the expansion of Latinx work at “mainstream” theatres—thanks to movements like the Sol Project and others—there can always be more. There are so many brilliant voices and plays that are waiting to be produced and deserve the chance for life.
New York has long been known as a hotbed of new plays and new play development. Does this hold true in the Latinx theatre community? What are some ways this has been improved?
Rebecca:This city has a lengthy history of creating and performing original work. Since the early, early days of Spanish-language plays and zarzuelas, and the early (but more recent) days of INTAR, Puerto Rican Traveling Theatre, and Repertorio Español, there has been a focus on making new work. Artists made work because there was a dearth of Latinx voices represented on stage. Artists like Roberto Rodríguez, Miriam Colón, Max Ferrá, and René Buch created spaces for other Latinx artists to make work. Today there are numerous Latinx companies, artists, and writers who are constantly creating intriguing work. Some of it is specific to culture or identity. Some of it isn’t. But as we continue to grow as a community, so will our voice.
Adriana: Absolutely! New plays and new play development are my favorite things to work on as an actor, and there are a lot of new and exciting voices out there as well as wonderful opportunities for audiences to check out new work.
There’s Repertorio’s MetLife Nuestras Voces Playwrighting Competition, The Lark's México/US Exchange, and Pregones/PRTT’s 48Hours in...El Bronx (the last two are happening in December), just to name a few to check out.
Also, as one of the co-founders of The Sol Project, a new theatre initiative created to raise the visibility of Latinx playwrights in the American theatre, I am very excited about our first production and inaugural theatre partnership—the world premiere of Hilary Bettis’ “Alligator,” directed by Elena Araoz, with New Georges at the ART/New York Theatre, which runs November 27 to December 18.
Why is Latinx theatre necessary in New York? Who is the audience?
Rebecca:Latinx theatre is necessary in New York because 29 percent of us are Latinx. However, there’s a much smaller percentage of Latinx productions taking place. We need to shift that. And it’s needed more now than ever. When in our country speaking Spanish on the street can be a cause for harassment, when children are taunted in schools that they need to “pack their bags and leave,” when crowds of people are shouting “build a wall,” it becomes that much more urgent for us to get our stories out there, and more than that, it’s critical for us be thoughtful about who we need to be in our audiences.
Adriana: We need it. New York is a melting pot of cultures and traditions. Our audiences are diverse, and we have visitors who come from all over the world to visit New York and its theatre scene. Our city is made up of artists, immigrants, students, second-shift/third-shift workers, tourists, Wall Street execs, developers, teachers, and the list goes on. We need to accurately reflect the world around us on our stages.
I think this quote that has been circulating around on social media says it best:
This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.—Toni Morrison
Who are some companies and/or individual artists the national community should be paying attention to, or be aware of?
Rebecca:Lin-Manuel Miranda. Keep an eye on that cat, I hear he’s really going places.
But seriously, you don’t have enough space for me to list all the artists folks should be paying attention to, there are that many incredible, fierce Latinx artists here in this city. I meet more all the time. One thing that continually stands out to me is the breadth of talent in this city. And these folks hustle, lemme tell you. I haven’t seen anyone hustle like the NYC Latinx theatre crew. I have so much mad love and respect for artists in this city, living and working here can be so challenging that at times you just wanna give up and it gives me all kinds of joy to see these NYC artists keep going.
Adriana: The Sol Project, of course, which I love being a part of! The Sol Collective consists of producers, actors, and directors Jacob Padrón, Claudia Acosta, Elena Araoz, David Mendizábal, Kyoung Park, Laurie Woolery and myself, Adriana Gaviria. The Sol Project builds visibility by activating a synergistic network of off-Broadway companies and regional theatres, all committed to producing Latina/o stories and artists. By placing Latina/o plays in conversation with other works in the seasons of major theatre companies, the project is slated to not only make a difference in the lives of gifted Latina/o playwrights but also to contribute a bold, kaleidoscopic body of work to what will become the new American canon.
There are numerous of other New York companies and individual artists that the national community should be aware of and too many to name here. Some of them are Caborca, INTAR, Pregones/Puerto Rican Traveling Theatre, Repertorio Español, Teatro IATI, LATEA, Teatro Círculo, Thalía Spanish Theatre, SEA, HOLA and La Cooperativa of Latina/o Theatre Artists (La Co-Op), among others.
Christina: Playwrights: Paola Lazaro Muñoz! Ricardo Pérez González! Kyoung Park! Beto O’Byrne! Georgina Escobar!
Actors: Arlene Chico-Lugo! Elise Santora! Ashley Ortiz! Francis Mateo! Brian Quijada! Directors: David Mendizábal!