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A New National Festival Seeks to Unite Latino Theater

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A New National Festival Seeks to Unite Latino Theater
Photo Source: Courtesy The Los Angeles Theatre center

Organizers are hoping a new theater festival set to be held in Los Angeles this fall will help create a touring network for Latino theater companies.

Such companies have sprouted up in cities such as New York, Chicago, Minneapolis, and Seattle. But the community is fractured—L.A., for instance, has nine different groups—and often disagrees about the fundamentals of the theater genre. Does a production need to be performed in Spanish in order to be considered Latino theater? Do the actors all have to be Latino? Does the playwright?

With those questions in mind, festival organizers now want to bring the disparate groups together to foster collaboration.

“It’s really about trying to understand the landscape of Latino theater in the United States,” José Luis Valenzuela, artistic director of the Los Angeles Theatre Center (LATC) and a co-organizer of the festival, told Backstage. “What are we doing? Who’s doing it? Why are they doing it? We have very few times when we can actually look at each other’s work.”

These types of festivals were common in the 1970s, at the height of the Chicano theater movement. But as the focus on Chicano and Latino identity ebbed in the 1980s and ’90s, the circuit died off.

The idea for the October–November event, dubbed “Encuentro” (“an encounter” in English), has been percolating among national Latino theater groups since 2012.

Last October, at a gathering in Boston, theater leaders from the Latino community formed the Latina/o Theatre Commons. This group, in partnership with the Los Angeles Theatre Center, is producing the festival, which Valenzuela wants to make a splash.  

“I think we have to upset the landscape in a big way, in a national way,” he said.

But outside of the philosophical debate about the future of Latino theater, the festival will also have real-world repercussions for actors: jobs.

“We’re going to be doing, like, five plays at night, and three of the theaters are Equity theaters,” said Valenzuela. “There’s [going to be] a lot of employment—100 actors.”

Festival organizers are currently accepting submissions from theater companies, solo artists, and producing entities. “We’re trying to keep the proposals open so we can see what’s happening in the field,” said Chantal Rodriguez, programming director and literary manager for the Latino Theater Company at the LATC.

In addition to the performances, organizers want the attending companies to break up and work with each other on pieces they have in development. The purpose of these workshops, said Rodriguez, is that everyone from the actors to the artistic directors of the various companies “can see how can we improve and work with one another and share our artistic talents.”

The application deadline for the festival, which has a budget of about $1 million, is April 1. Submission criteria details are available at www.thelatc.org.

Organizers are planning a similar festival in Chicago next year. After that, Valenzuela wants the event back in Los Angeles. “Initiatives like this take about 10 years to take off,” he said. 

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