The State of Latina/o Theatre in Texas
This is the first of seven posts in a series about the state of Latina/o theatre in Texas. In this series, each of the contributing writers presents insight into the happenings, developments, and future of Latina/o theatre and performance in their respective regions.
When I moved to Houston from New Orleans in 2012 to pursue my doctorate in Latina/o theatre and literature, I was thrilled at the opportunity to become involved in the state’s rich Latina/o theatre scene. For the first time in my life, I was able to regularly attend Latina/o theatre performances. What had previously existed only in books and performance videos became a living, breathing, and ever-evolving movement. This experience came full circle in December, 2014, when I attended Cara Mira Theatre Co.’s production of Zoot Suit, one of the first Latina/o plays I can remember reading and studying. When El Pachuco emerged from the Los Angeles Times front page to begin the play, I got goosebumps and my eyes began to water. This was the power of theatre and live performance.
Despite my excitement at moving to Texas, I never expected to feel like I truly belonged here. To me, this was a slight detour in the journey of life. I would come here for a few years, finish my degree, and eventually settle down where the job market took me—which I certainly didn’t think would be Texas. Yet over the past three years, I’ve felt myself becoming more and more Texan. This blog series is a testament to what Texas means to me. Texas is a place where Latina/o theatre is flourishing in different ways, all across the state.
Texas is a state that demands attention for the Latina/o theatre being cultivated and presented in all regions. Necessary Latina/o theatre is being created all across the state.
The discussion in this series that follows on Latina/o theatre and performance includes new research on contemporary performance across the state of Texas. A conversation began during the 2014 Association for Theatre in Higher Education (ATHE) conference and the 2014 Latina/o Theatre Commons National Convening at the Los Angeles Theatre Center Encuentro about how to create more dialogue and networking among Latino/a theatre makers and allies who are based in Texas and/or doing research on the state.
At the Encuentro, Jorge Huerta and Tiffany Ana López curated a map highlighting the places that have most influenced The Andrew W. Mellon Fellows, a group of emerging arts leaders who were in residence at the Los Angeles Theatre Center from October 1 through November 21. The Fellows received rigorous training, equipping them with the skills necessary to become future artistic directors and leaders in the field. While many areas on the map were covered with Post-It notes—most notably California, Colorado, and the Northeast—Texas was noticeably well-represented by the next generation of theatremakers. Post-It notes covered the state, principally San Antonio and Austin. Yet despite the Encuentro’s diverse programming, which featured fifteen plays from the four corners and Puerto Rico, no Texas-based theatre companies were represented. On the surface, this could suggest that Texas is not producing the quantity or the quality of Latina/o theatre as other parts of the United States. But those of us working to historicize Texas theatre are providing other evidence, illuminating the work being done across college campuses and local communities, Latina/o theatre companies in Austin, Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio, and the regional alliances that have sprung up in the past three years (TANTO, SALTA, TIA, VALTA). These examples, while not exhaustive, demonstrate that Texas is a state that demands attention for the Latina/o theatre being cultivated and presented in all regions. Necessary Latina/o theatre is being created all across the state.
I decided to use the annual National Association for Chicana and Chicano Studies (NACCS) Tejas Foco conference in Houston this past February to continue this conversation. Nine colleagues and I convened to present on theatre, film, and performance movements across the state. As convening and networking is one of the four pillars of the Latina/o Theatre Commons, we gathered to foster deeper connections among Texas-based theatremakers and allies. Each presenter offered insight on current trends and possibilities for the future of Latina/o theatre in their respective regions. Additionally, Nicolás Kanellos presented the historical background for Latina/o theatre and performance in Texas, offering highlights of his extensive archival research seen in his foundational monograph A History of Hispanic Theatre in the United States: Origins to 1940 (1990).
This series seeks to answer several key questions and further the conversations that began at the Encuentro and NACCS Tejas Foco. What are the current trends? What is happening in different parts of the state? What is happening in Latina/o theatre in our areas? What are the theatres, production companies, alliances, and allies in each region? How are these connected? Who are the theatremakers, and what are they working on? How can we create stronger networks? What are our goals for the near future and distant future? What are the challenges and opportunities for Latina/o theatre in our areas? How can we all come together to create more Latina/o theatre in Tejas? What is needed and what is necessary in terms of funding, resources, and curriculum?
Each of the contributing writers to this series will present insight into the happenings, developments, and future of Latina/o theatre in their respective regions. The goal is to continue the conversation about the current state of Latina/o theatre and performance in Texas. As the second most populated state in the country and home to over nine million Latina/os as of the 2010 census—a number that does not even include undocumented immigrants—it is necessary to understand how Texas fits into national Latina/o theatre landscape.