Toward a More Inclusive Theatre Curriculum

Encuentro: Latinx Performance for the New American Theater

At the Latino Theater Company’s landmark Encuentro 2014: A National Latina/o Theatre Festival—the largest of the sort in over twenty-five years—theatremakers, scholars, and advocates convened in Los Angeles from across the United States to celebrate the rich diversity and beauty of contemporary Latinx theatre. Produced in association with the Latinx Theatre Commons (LTC), the historic festival ushered in a new era of Latinx theatre artists in conversation with each other and also fostered an ecosystem in which Latinx theatre scholars could thrive.

Even though the scholars had long built community through organizations such as the American Society of Theatre Research and the Association for Theatre in Higher Education, the LTC encouraged them to do so with artists themselves. The bringing together of both sides spurred a Latinx theatre movement that has been marked by exciting new projects, many of which break down barriers of who and who isn’t invited to the table.

The publication of Encuentro: Latinx Performance for the New American Theater by Northwestern University Press is one example of the success of Encuentro 2014 and the new movement. Shortly after the festival, which saw nineteen theatre companies in residence at the Los Angeles Theatre Center (LATC) for one month, the three of us began talking about editing a volume that documented the experience. Now, nearly five years later, the anthology has finally been published.

It is important to note that Encuentro is not merely a collection of plays from Encuentro 2014. Rather, it offers a critical lens to the festival that considers various questions of representation and offers an important account of the origins and inner workings of the LTC. In addition to an introduction and conclusion by us, the editorial team, the volume also includes the following plays and critical introductions:

  • Aliens, Immigrants & Other Evildoers by José Torres-Tama; introduction by Dr. Tiffany Ana López
  • Dreamscape by Rickerby Hinds; introduction by Olga Sanchez Saltveit
  • La Esquinita, USA by Rubén C. González; introduction by Dr. Jorge Huerta
  • Patience, Fortitude, and Other Antidepressants by Mariana Carreño King; introduction by Dr. Beatriz Rizk
  • Premeditation by Evelina Fernández; introduction by Dr. Grace Dávila-López 
  • Zoetrope: Part 1 by Javier Antonio González; introduction by Dr. Irma Mayorga

The historic festival ushered in a new era of Latinx theatre artists in conversation with each other and also fostered an ecosystem in which Latinx theatre scholars could thrive.

As such, Encuentro not only documents the theatrical productions at the festival but also chronicles the role of this work on the larger national theatre scene. These plays and performances speak to the diversity of Latinx identities and cultures. They include cultural ritual, political demonstration, and social practice, thus offering a dynamic portrayal of how the United States Latinx community engages in identity formation. Moreover, the plays in this volume offer a diversity of aesthetics, dramatic structures, and thematic content dealing with gentrification, marriage, migration, racial and gendered violence, and the US-Mexico border. The anthology also documents the role that theatre and performance play in these conversations. To further facilitate this discussion, the introductions, written by leading Latinx theatre scholars, contextualize the work and offer valuable pedagogical and dramaturgical tools to anyone interested in engaging with the plays.

The plays themselves can be used as primary material for cultural studies classrooms. La Esquinita, USA by Rubén C. González, is a one-man tour de force that speaks of the lives that inhabit a now-decaying neighborhood. Aliens, Immigrants & Other Evildoers by José Torres-Tama, another solo piece, thrusts the reader and audiences into an uncompromising look at current immigration politics in the United States. Along the same testimonial line, Rickerby Hinds’s Dreamscape delves into the true story of a young black woman’s death at the hands of police in the late 1990s. Also taking a historical approach, the experimental piece Zoetrope: Part 1 by Javier Antonio González unequivocally makes a statement on Puerto Rico’s status over a fifty-year trajectory. Patience, Fortitude, and Other Antidepressants by Mariana Carreño King offers a modern take on Federico Garcia Lorca’s Yerma while exploring issues of sexism, police brutality, and homophobia in present-day New York City. Evelina Fernandez’s Premeditation mines the theme of marriage and class while offering a theatricalization of film-noir aesthetics with a Chicano lens. Overall, Encuentro offers a rich source of socio-historical material useful in a variety of contexts; whole courses can be designed around the book as a primary source of study.

Our intent was, from the beginning, to present this as a living document, one in which social, participatory actions between artists, communities, and researchers have been in constant dialogue. For instance, the foreword by José Luis Valenzuela, artistic director of the Latino Theater Company and the LATC, is a living testimony of cultural assertion. It echoes Luis Valdez’s poem “Pensamiento Serpentino,” a cornerstone of Chicano cultural identity from its inception. Our introduction and conclusion provide an update on current issues affecting Latinx theatre and Chicanx-Latinx cultural studies as a whole at the beginning of the twenty-first century. These issues go beyond the defined contexts of theatre and performance and spill into the sociopolitical context of our time.

“Encuentro” means “an encounter,” and this is precisely what we intend to facilitate via this book: opportunities for students, scholars, and theatremakers to encounter Latinx theatre on the page.

“Encuentro” means “an encounter,” and this is precisely what we intend to facilitate via this book: opportunities for students, scholars, and theatremakers to encounter Latinx theatre on the page. While Encuentro can certainly be useful to theatre companies, directors, actors, and the like, as scholars, our primary aim is for students and fellow scholars to use this anthology in the classroom as a way to stage these so-called encounters.

It is important to think of this book as useful in a number of different classroom contexts, not just in theatre, English, comparative literature, or performance studies. Of course, classes in these departments are the primary target for the anthology. However, due to its social and political subtexts, thinking beyond the restrictions of departmental cartographies suits this volume well.  For instance, cross-listed courses in American and Chicano/Latinx histories, sociology, political science, and anthropology would benefit from our editorial approach of conceiving this volume as an historical record.

There are many ways professors can incorporate Encuentro into their curriculum, and we suggest using the anthology with the Pedagogy Notebook series on HowlRound. Pedagogy Notebook includes essays in which college professors detail how they teach Latinx theatre. While the possibilities are endless, here’s a potential way to pair the lessons in the series with the plays:

  • Aliens, Immigrants & Other Evildoers with Eddy Alvarez’s essay on ritual, transformation, and performance
  • Patience, Fortitude, and Other Antidepressants with Adrianna Santos’s essay on student performances in the Latinx literature classroom
  • Dreamscape with Marci McMahon’s essay on responsive theatre in the time of the Trump regime
  • La Esquinita, USA and Thornton Wilder’s Our Town with Carla Della Gatta’s essay on adaptations and Latinx theatre

Beyond the classroom, Encuentro is positioned to create conversations centered around race, ethnicity, and gender in addition to equity and inclusion on college campuses and at theatre companies. We are currently in the early stages of planning a book tour for the 2019–20 academic year that will see us visit college campuses to discuss not only the anthology itself but also how it is in conversation with the current Latinx theatre movement spearheaded by the work of the LTC. If you are interested in bringing the Encuentro book tour to your campus or theatre, please reach out to us so that we may begin discussing how we can best serve your community.

As the demographics of the American theatre continue to shift and become more inclusive of marginalized voices, anthologies such as Encuentro: Latinx Performance for the New American Theater serve as vital records that demonstrate the plurality and depth of Latinx theatremaking. Now is the time for theatremakers, scholars, readers, and audience members to center Latinx theatre as an integral component of the new American theatre.

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