jakub | April 8, 2024

AMERICAN THEATRE | Latinx Theatre Commons Celebrates 10 Years of Connection

Producer Jacqueline Flores speaks to the over 100 theatremakers gathered in Boston to celebrate 10 years of the Latinx Theatre Commons. (Photo by Anna Olivella)

Changemakers often start movements armed with more questions than answers. At least that’s true for Karen Zacarías, a key member and a founder of Latinx Theatre Commons (LTC), which has aimed to change the American theatre narrative and raise the visibility of Latinx theatremakers and performances. The group also aspires to “champion equity through advocacy, art making, convening, and scholarship.”

At a mid-March gathering on Emerson College’s campus in Boston, where LTC was celebrating its 10-year anniversary, Zacarías, author of multiple award-winning plays and founder of Young Playwright’s Theater, shared in her remarks that she “only had questions, I had no answers” when she helped dream up the idea for LTC.

Karen Zacarías speaks to the LTC attendees during the opening ceremony. (Photo by Anna Olivella)

Luckily, the power to change the world doesn’t hinge on knowing all the solutions before one begins to chart a course. It’s the starting that counts. So Zacarías gathered other makers and used grants from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and Doris Duke Charitable Foundation to seed preliminary strategy and planning meetings with other creators.

She explained that she conversed with peers while ruminating on the “build it and they will come” concept. “What happens if we turn that around?” she posited during a session. “What if we come and build together?”

Four of the affectionately known “DC 8” who created the Latinx Theatre Commons: Karen Zacarías, Jose Luis Valenzuela, Lisa Portes, and Anne García-Romero. (Photo by Anna Olivella)

In the decade since the movement officially kicked off in 2013, the LTC has convened in multiple locations, including Seattle, Miami, and Denver, as they furthered their work, raising the profile of Latinx people in theatre, onstage and off-.

“I’m most proud of the idea that Latino theatre is not one thing, that we’ve become bigger and more expansive,” said Zacarías on day two of the three-day event. She’s proud of the people who’ve attended and the friendships developed. “There are so many plays, books, and ideas that I’m not sure would have happened if we weren’t there to inspire and support each other.”

At the meeting, LTC, a flagship program of HowlRound, participants talked about what they’ve accomplished and announcements were made about what’s ahead: There will be a convening at the 2024 Encuentro, a national theatre festival hosted by the Latino Theater Company (also celebrating 10 years), with three weeks of “artistic exchange, cross-company co-creation, and presented performances,” in Los Angeles. There will be two LTC-produced convenings in 2025: The Fornés Symposium, where scholars, artists, and others interested in the work and life of the playwright María Irene Fornés will gather, and the Carnaval of New Musical Theatre, a jubilee of Latine music and storytelling. There will also be an Actor Training Laboratorio in 2026. In 2027, conveners will discuss the past, present, and future of trans-linguistic theatremaking at “A Forum on the Future: Language, Technology, and Provocations in Multilingual Theatremaking.”

Throughout the Boston convening, there were ice-breakers, theatre-centric world-building, and reimagining exercises, performances, and remarks from thespians near and far. Among them was Boston-area playwright, educator, and actor Melinda Lopez, whose work centers Latine women; she reminisced about the first meeting she attended, where participants created an altar and spent time standing in circles, talking, stretching, howling, and crying. Back then, people in the room wrote down their respective histories and hopes on scores of sticky notes. That moment felt like the group was saying, “Estamos aqui, or, We’re here,” Lopez said.

Cristina Fernandez, co-champion of the upcoming Forum on the Future: Language, Technology, and Provocations in Multilingual Theatermaking, addresses the crowd. (Photo by Anna Olivella)

In a room where most of the action took place, a timeline made up of those very same sticky notes Lopez mentioned (preserved and copied), and newer notes too, covered the back and side walls. Things like, “Josefina López writes her first unproduced play in 5th grade 1980,” or, “My play Braided Sorrow wins the 2006 Chicano/Latino Literary Prize in Drama” were written in pen and marker. This powerful archive spanned decades right up to the present. Conveners were encouraged to write what they’re currently working on or what they’ve accomplished. Some grabbed pens and sticky notes, while others posted flyers or one-pagers for their upcoming shows. 

The idea of preserving history, documenting, and archiving, as well as forging a future was a powerful current pulsing throughout the multi-day event. And the timeline, crowded with accomplishments, was inspiring to see and read. Documenting the work and history of Latinx theatre in plays, scholarly publications, and books is critical, and allows those resources to be shared widely, as director, actress, and playwright Alison N. Vasquez explained. Vasquez, a lecturer at the University of Texas at Austin, said she shares resources from LTC with her students in the classroom.

Jacqueline Flores, LTC’s producer since 2021, got involved while researching Latinx theatre for her thesis work years ago. She didn’t realize how much work had been done to uplift Latinx voices. The more Flores learned, the more she wanted to ensure resources were available for others. That, combined with not seeing anyone who looked like her in a leading role in a play until she was 22 years old, “put a fire in me to want to elevate our voices,” Flores said.

Raising visibility is a core tenant of LTC, but what anchors its work is the power of convening, initiating, and cultivating relationships. People from all over the nation, and a smattering of international participants, attended the convening to stay or get involved, to connect, and to lift others.

Because of LTC, Lopez remarked, “I always have a playwright, scholar, actor, producer, and student right at the tip of my tongue to speak into the room, if I’m in the room where things happen. That’s my charge. And it’s yours. I pass it on to you.”

Participants showcase a performance from a workshop led by local Boston artists. (Photo by Anna Olivella)

Jorge Arroyo, a freelance lighting designer based in Boston and N.Y., feels the same way. Arroyo first attended an LTC meeting in 2016 and found that it “allowed us to know each other and support each other, and has created all these outcroppings of amazing other movements.”

That sense of not knowing other Latinx theatre workers in the industry led Arroyo and some peers to create La Gente, an online directory of Latinx/e theatre workers. Now if Arroyo can’t do a job or is unable to share the names of others, he can point those in need to the directory.

Demian Chavez, a playwright, musician, and student at the University of Texas, attended LTC’s meeting for the first time. Chavez said, “I know they don’t like to use the word organization, but it is organizing. It does bring us together and it is important that we get to meet and share knowledge.” Chavez talked about attending a session where creative folks discussed some of the challenges or roadblocks people face regionally and nationally. “Together we’re stronger,” Chavez said.

Zacarías couldn’t have imagined what LTC would look like a decade ago. Full of questions at the time, she and others knew that together, perhaps they could find solutions.

She knew “that if we harnessed our [collective] imagination that something great was going to happen. I didn’t know it would be this powerful and last so long and keep on growing.”  

What she did know, she added: “I had faith in us.”

Jacquinn Sinclair is a Boston-based journalist, contributing performing arts writer, and critic for WBUR The ARTery. Her work has appeared in Performer Magazine, The Philadelphia Tribune, Exhale Magazine, and more.

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