Most experts would date the beginning of contemporary Latino-American theater to Luis Valdez and his formation of California's El Teatro Campesino in 1965, or the founding of New York's INTAR the following year. In 1971, Valdez and others formed El Teatro Nacional de Aztlán (TENAZ), the legendary annual workshop for Latino stage artists.
By the mid-'80s, artistic director (and TENAZ veteran) Jose Luis Valenzuela's Latino Theater Company had embarked on a decade of nationally renowned productions at the Los Angeles Theatre Center, which, in theater circles at least, sparked a brief flickering of “Latino chic.”
In 2011, however, when L.A. hosted regional theater's national conference, Latino theater was somehow still off the radar.
“Even though we were members, there were no times [scheduled] for Latinos to talk about what was going on,” Valenzuela recalls. “And so I asked the Latinos who came to L.A. to stay for one more day for us to have our own meeting.”
More meetings followed, in places like Washington, D.C., and Boston. Bit by bit, the ad hoc group pieced together the Latina/o Theater Commons (LTC), a national theater network. Its inaugural gathering, Encuentro 2014 (Spanish for “encounter”), runs Oct. 12-Nov. 10, and claims to be the largest Latino theater fest ever held in the United States. The plan is to hold the fest every two years, and Valenzuela hopes it will end the frustrating invisibility of Latino artists and playwrights.
Although the most visible part of Encuentro will be the 17 productions on LATC's downtown stage and other venues, Valenzuela emphasizes that the heart of Encuentro will be nonpublic panels and conversations in meeting rooms and bars, and 10 new works created in workshops. During the festival's four weeks, 150 visiting artists will collaborate on those works.
“We go to a lot of conferences and usually talk [only] about marketing,” Valenzuela explains. “We barely sit down and talk about the art.?…?When you work with somebody, you begin to understand the context and the aesthetics and the relationships of the theatrical language.” The new works may or may not have ticketed performances at the end of the festival.
For the general public, however, the fully produced play's the thing. Valenzuela offers his own shortlist of Encuentro work that he is most looking forward to seeing:
Juárez: A Documentary Mythology
New York–based Theater Mitu's director Rubén Polendo graduated from Valenzuela's program at UCLA, but that's not why Valenzuela is excited to see this staged documentary about the hundreds of young women kidnapped, raped, killed and discarded in the Mexican desert. “They went to Juárez and did research and they created this amazing piece,” Valenzuela says. “And he's a fantastic director. It's very devised and multimedia.”
Agua a Cucharadas (Water by the Spoonful)
Tantai Teatro, the premier Spanish-language stage company in San Juan, Puerto Rico, brings its acclaimed production of Quiara Alegría Hudes' Pulitzer Prize–winning play, in Spanish with supertitles.
Dancing in My Cockroach Killers
The first work by the newly merged Puerto Rican Traveling Theater and the Bronx's renowned Pregones Theater is director Rosalba Rolón's musicalized (by composer Desmar Guevara) staging of nearly a dozen poems, monologues and reflections by poet-playwright Magdalena Gomez. “I'm very excited to see these companies that I haven't seen, and that I see and go, 'Wow! These people are actually doing something interesting.'?”
Zoetrope: Part I
Brooklyn's hip Caborca company takes its name from Roberto Bolaño's The Savage Detectives, its aesthetic from Bertolt Brecht, and the subject of this caustically ironic theater-movement piece from Puerto Rican nationalism. “It's a young group of people, very multimedia, with choreography and a minimalist set, talking about the relationship between New York and Puerto Rico.”
Mariela en la Desierto (Mariela in the Desert)
Aurora Theater's Teatro del Sol in Georgia brings its Spanish-language production of Mexican-American playwright Karen Zacarías' 2008 buried-secrets tale about artists in 1950s Mexico.
Your Problem With Men
From Chicago's Teatro Luna and Pan-Latina Theater Ensemble comes Emilio Williams' deranged slapstick comedy, about the indignities and self-inflicted humiliations of romantic breakups.
La Esquinita, USA
Nine quirky characters from Anytown, USA, are brought to life by writer and shape-shifting performer Rubén C. Gonzalez, El Teatro Campesino's “Mad Mexican.”
Valenzuela directed Evelina Fernandez's delirious farce, which puts a '40s film noir spin on middle-aged marriage. It was just nominated for Ovation Awards for best play, director and lighting design, Valenzuela says, “so I'm very excited for [the visiting artists] to see that piece.”
ENCUENTRO 2014 | Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 S. Spring St., dwntwn., and other venues | Oct. 12-Nov. 10 | (866) 811-4111 | thelatc.org/encuentro2014
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