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Sowing Futures at the Latinx Theatre Commons Tenth Anniversary Convening

The Haiku (or Celebrating Connection and Creative Play)

Every time. Every single time I am tasked with writing a haiku, whether it be in the form of a writing prompt, or—as in the case of the Latinx Theatre Commons (LTC) Tenth Anniversary Convening in Boston this past March—as collectively written tableaux vivants, I become crushingly anxious. I don't blame the form; I quite like the form. It's me. There are some things in my creative garden, like poetry, or haiku, or dance—add dance—that are like seeds in my subconscious that never got the right amount of moisture or sunlight for them to sprout properly. They are, for the most part, unviable or in the best case, dormant. But that doesn't stop me from participating in building a collective haiku. Because that's the point of a collective prompt or a collective anything: to show up and do the thing.

A drawing of people writing haikus.

Image by Georgina Leanse H. Escobar.

At the convening, strangers and friends, colleagues and allies make vibrant haiku tableaus that, by being spoken, transform words to acts of will: "Siempre Pa'Lante," "Stories Souls Will Never Know," and "Our Liberation."

And, well, I'm moved. I choose to believe that we all have seeds in our own creative gardens that are not unviable, just sleepy. I choose to believe that the power of a commons is to create enough vibrational force to help them sprout awake. I choose to remember the power of creative play, and I'm ready.

Texas (or Stage Stories: Latinx Theatre from Coast to Coast)

Warmed-up and ready to consider our way forward by embracing organic growth (wherein a group uses its own resources, capabilities, expertise, and relationships to foster the growth), we split off into affinity groups based on self-identified regions of the United States and Canada. It is the first time in my LTC history that I am in the group that I am with: Texas. Everything is, indeed, bigger in Texas: the distances, the challenges, our hearts. We speak candidly and openly about what we are each doing in and with our communities to engage and grow, and we sympathize with the challenges and successes that are emerging for Latinx theatre companies in our regions. Austin is resourced, Lubbock feels distanced, El Paso is...trying? San Antonio is San Antonio, Dallas, Houston, the Big Bend region—we share and talk about what we can or can't talk about in Texas, about a course in decolonizing Stanislavski. We reflect on the last ten years. To my pleasant surprise, there is no indication of Latinx artistic stagnancy, except as experienced in certain nameless institutions, nor is there a sense of hopelessness, as many other subjects and political changes in our state most definitely evoke. At the end of our short time together, we all feel closer together: friends, allies, and if you squint your eyes, or fold a map of Texas into three parts: neighbors.

As teatristas we must understand that anything that is to be manifested, anything at all, from a script to a set to a character to a movement to a reality, must be first imagined.

A Penny Found Is a Penny Lost (or Wins and Roadblocks)

Our oxygenated bodies were infused with a celebratory buzz for how far we have, indeed, come in the last ten years. Tara Houston in the Pacific Northwest reports on continuing to disrupt the models of how designers engage in the room and how to reconstruct designer non-collaboration; Marissa Chibas applauds a collaboration between Duende CalArts and Lagartijas Tiradas al Sol; the ringing bells in the Midwest and beyond, from Notre Dame to Princeton, remind us via Anne García-Romero of an important upcoming publication, Fornés in Context; New England's own Teatro Chelsea through the voices of Armando Rivera and Carla Mirabal Rodriguez inform us of their journey from inception to A-Típico, a new Latinx play festival, and Oscar Cabrera brings it home for me, personally, with the report from New York City's Latinx Playwrights Circle, which—on growth—I have seen grow from an idea-seed to a blossoming oasis as one of the leading (and kindest) writing groups in town. We applaud, we hoot, and then we soak in the silence and vibrational harmonies of a singing bowl. It all sounds too good to be true. And for a little while, it is. And then we discuss the roadblocks: assimilation, costs, lack of spaces, politics, burn-out, location...

A black and white sketch of a person presenting.

Image by Georgina Leanse H. Escobar

We discuss in groups, and smaller groups, and bigger groups, and circles, and even bigger circles, and smaller ones, and those of us who don't speak listen. We receive information about us, where we are, and where we've been, why it's complicated, what it takes, why we struggle, where we've failed, how we've harmed, and where we remain blindsided. Colorado voices struggling with things like the media not covering their shows, a lack of access to their community's venues, a conservative approach to season selection (recycling from the canon as opposed to taking risks on new works); Texas mentions funding, lack of spaces, the political climate, immigration policies, and a lack of Latinx philanthropy; California loses artists to better paying jobs; New York pleas for attention to aesthetics and who is critiquing our work...

Right about the moment when I am about to melt into my chair with the heat of reality burning through my aura, José Luis Valenzuela does what he does best (other than dancing)—he convinces us to think forward. Through a semi-guided meditation, he asks us to fill ourselves with a bright light that emanates from a spark in our heart. It might sound reductive or simple, but as teatristas we must understand that anything that is to be manifested, anything at all, from a script to a set to a character to a movement to a reality, must be first imagined. And so, he meets us there, in that imagined place where sparks and hearts fill us with the light of hope that instantly reinvigorates our physiological, metaphoric, and actual movement. We are reminded once again that the LTC is a manifestation of itself, and we must nurture it with this type of minor magic. In this space conjured by the LTC, all of us appear as peers, and as Brian Herrera states, "We are our unlawful fandango."

A black and white sketch detailing a circular discussion.

Image by Georgina Leanse H. Escobar.

The Park(or Creating our Future Commons)

The next activity is more immersive and interactive. Reminded of what Karen Zacarías once said in referring to the LTC movement as a "park" where we can all come together and bring ourselves to a common space, the ask is to conjure an LTC park. I am tasked with manifesting the image that tries to capture what all the groups are working on. It is quite a sight. I step into the space and Rose Cano is on the floor; her figure is delineated as the group reminds me to bring awareness that this needs to be a sustainable park, because, like a human body, it requires nourishment and sustainable care. Another group is using foil and other arts and crafts materials to build some sort of park feature. The group mentions a need for the park to have a story circle or ceremony circle, a type of "meet your mentor" nook. A third group shapes a distinct mound in the middle of their park for perspective and show me where the food trucks will be. When the groups share out about the future of the LTC by creating a park to represent it, there is a call for housing and food, and it hits me hard: there are so many humans that are suffering in this country because of food and house insecurity, and so many more through a massive attack abroad on innocent lives that betrays the very essence of community and humanity; and there, like here, we turn a blind eye. And yet here we are, from different regions of the continent, artists, scholars, allies, thinkers, doers, newbies, and veteranos, once again daring to imagine. Daring to hope. It is a brave thing, to hope. Despair is easy. All we must do is look around. But the work that accompanies the hopeful is difficult, and where the power of true change resides.

At the end of our morning sessions, I am left both hopeful and in a normal amount of despair that I think is common for most of us these days. It's not a paralyzing despair, but simply one that can cause severe inaction. Humans have been harmed by both our actions and inactions, and as the Latinx Theatre Commons, that is also true. Humans’ harm is as inevitable as our carbon footprint, and perhaps the virtue is the ability to continue the quest of no intentional harmdoing and making amends. What matters is that now, more than ever, the organic growth of this movement is leading us to another point of breaking ground. And there are many dormant seeds inside of us that we need to break open. Only then, as a family of promising one-day-will-be trees, can we care for one another and hope that, united as a movement, we can care for so many more outside of our own circles.

Here we are, from different regions of the continent, artists, scholars, allies, thinkers, doers, newbies, and veteranos, once again daring to imagine. Daring to hope. 

As our parks, our stages, our movements will continue to grow arid by the greed of our inaction towards climate change, towards hate, towards war, towards harm, may we remember that what makes the LTC's park strong are the giants that helped form it. For this generation to sprout, the vibrations caused by the Latina/o/e/x theatrical giants who, like elephants, created the conditions of success for the rest of us, must truly shake us open. They did the work, now it is our time. Our parks may be drying up, so let us always remember to look to nature for inspiration on how to behave as responsible and sustainable makers. We must listen. We must be humble and work for each other, not just for individualistic ambitions; and we, as artists, must always live to sow.

I had the honor of sharing stories about my ancestor at the end of the night, but I didn't share much about his son—my great-great-grandfather Romulo Escobar Zerman, the father of Mexican agriculture. Among his own gigantean tales of uplifting Mexico and Mexican voices, there are stories about his favorite poem. He, unlike me, apparently found comfort and not anxiety from the words of poets. Famously, “Sembrando” (“Sowing”), by the Spanish writer Manuel R. Blanco Belmonte, translated by my aunt Belinda Alvarez Escobar:

We must fight for all those who do not!
We must ask for all those who do not!
We must make those who do not listen hear!
We must weep for those who cannot weep!
We must live to sow! Always to sow!

A black and white sketch of a park.

Image by Georgina Leanse H. Escobar. 

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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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