Cristina Goletti had heard talk within the national arts community for several years about an effort by some of the bigger theater companies to embrace the works of minority artists to draw attention to their talents and underrepresented stories.
Goletti, associate professor and chair of The University of Texas at El Paso’s Department of Theatre and Dance, said she stressed during her job interview two years ago that she wanted to develop such a season at UTEP. This year her department has scheduled special events, community outreach activities and theater and dance productions that celebrate one of the region’s largest constituencies: Latinos.
The educator said that the 2019-20 season would celebrate the enormous contributions of “Latinx” theater on international culture. While Latinx is a relatively new gender-neutral term that refers to Latin American identity, Goletti considers the “x” more of a variable that goes beyond gender. The season’s productions will share different perspectives from established playwrights to novice UTEP thespians.
Among the initial events was a Festival of Monologues in Partnership with Tecnológico de Monterrey on Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019, in the University’s Fox Fine Arts Center Studio Theatre. The season’s first production will be Josefina Lopez’s “Real Women Have Curves,” which opens Oct. 10 in the center’s Wise Family Theatre.
“It was an ambitious and necessary effort,” Goletti said of the Latinx season during an interview on the Wise Family Theatre stage that was dotted with desks, chairs, sewing machines, boxes of different colored fabric and other props for the first production, which is set in a small factory. “Our Latinx season will move us toward being part of a larger discourse. This is the right time for us. We are participating in something that is going on at a national level.”
An October 2018 article in American Theatre showed that white male playwrights still dominate U.S. stages, according to a study done by the Dramatist Guild and the Lilly Awards. Using data from 2016-17, productions from writers of color (15%) and women writers (29%) lag behind male writers who make up more than 80% of shows produced on American stages.
Alongside the department chair was Adriana Dominguez, Ph.D., assistant professor of theatre arts and director of audience development, who helped Goletti develop the schedule. The 2003 UTEP graduate and El Paso native said she became involved because it was important for young Latinos to see their stories told on stage.
Dominguez sheepishly admitted that she was not aware of all the contributions of the Lantinx community to theater until she was in college. She said there was little exposure to those works back then and she wanted to change that so that more people could enjoy the stunning work created by Latinx artists.
Incidentally, Dominguez said her first college theater role was in Lopez’s comedy “Real Women Have Curves,” which debuted on stage in 1990. The story revolves around a recent high school graduate from East Los Angeles who must decide whether to pursue an Ivy League offer to continue her education or stay at home to help her family. The character learns about self-love and empowerment as the play develops. This time Dominguez will direct the show.
The director also secured visits by the living playwrights behind the season’s shows. For example, Lopez will help introduce the Oct. 10 performance at 7 p.m. Luis Alberto Urrea is scheduled to present his “Into the Beautiful North,” and New York-based playwright Georgina Hernandez Escobar will guide UTEP students to create “Monsters We Create” during the spring 2020 semester. Organizers said the cast and crews would benefit from working alongside the playwrights who will be able to explain exactly what they wanted in a scene.
Escobar, a native of Juárez, Mexico, is a visiting professor of practice and the department’s playwright in residence for the 2019-20 academic year. Her students will work as an ensemble to develop the story and script for “Monsters We Create” over several months before the production debuts in February 2020 in UTEP’s Studio Theatre.
The playwright said she learned about the department’s plans for a Latinx season after she decided to spend the year at her alma mater. She called the decision an important step in the evolution of American theater. Escobar said this effort shifts the focus to investigations and the discovery of new, timely stories about the Americas – North, South and Central. That mission will keep theater fresh and relevant in the 21st century, she said.
“It is important to bring inquiry to any theater program that seeks to truly grow and launch successful artists beyond the confines of academia,” said Escobar, who earned her bachelor’s degree in multidisciplinary studies from UTEP in 2006.“It is important for the University, its students, and the community to embrace this shift as part of our collective research in a nationwide shift toward the cultivation of the new American theater, lest it be left behind and conceived as a factory of stagnant and archaic artistic training and values.”
Romanti-ezer Mata, a senior in pursuit of two Bachelor of Fine Arts performance degrees in theatre and dance, said he was interested in the department’s decision to schedule the Latinx season because it would illuminate the quality of storytelling by Latin artists.
“I love that more Latinos/Latinas are creating theater for and by our community,” said Mata, an El Paso native and first-generation college student. “I think it’s a great way for us to tell our stories.”
Click here to review the department’s schedule of events.
By Daniel Perez – UTEP Communications