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Out of the Fringe? Out of the Closet:
Latina/Latino Theatre and Performance in the 1990s
When I first sent this article to TDR my hopes of being published were tempered by my understanding of the type of performance (and not text) orientation of this journal. I sent in what was equivalent to a type of introduction to an anthology LA playwright Caridad Svich and I were coediting, Out of the Fringe: Contemporary Latina/Latino Theatre and Performance (Theatre Communications Group, 2000). When Richard Schechner wrote back, accepting the article because he felt that a number of the works and playwrights discussed were unknown to the TDR readership, I was thrilled. Not only because of the evident publication "brownie point," but because the notion that TDR would accept a half-baked article on the promise of a better one, and because Schechner thought the works and playwrights themselves deserved the exposure, I thought: "Cool. All along the only one who's been preventing me from breaking out of the wonderful Latino and Latin American publications and into a broader, English-language spectrum has been ME. Chicken! ¡Cobarde!" Yes, I know. Historically TDR has dedicated quite a bit of space to Latina/o works. But hey, I thought, those articles were written by (with all due respect, but not kneeling) the "sacred cows" of contemporary cross-cultural theatre and performance. I'm NOT a holy cow. And I don't even live in NYC, SF, or LA, I live in Cowtown (Fort Worth) Texas. What do I know? Anyone out there saying, "Yeah, sister, I hear ya"? Good. Because, I think the point is this: some of the barriers are within. In many ways, this article has to do with breaking both internal and external barriers. By no means an exhaustive list, the artists whose work I discuss here, in my opinion, are expanding the threshold of Latina/Latino representational possibilities: Luis Alfaro, Migdalia Cruz, Nilo Cruz, Coco Fusco and Nao Bustamante, Marga Gomez, Naomi Iizuka, Oliver Mayer, Pedro Monge-Rafuls, Cherríe Moraga, Monica Palacios, Caridad Svich, and Alina Troyano. All of the works discussed have existed as performance, though I may not have seen them. It is a small list. They represent a fraction of the Latinas/os out there creating work. This is not meant to be a "definitive" statement on Latina/o theatre and performance, just one among many. [End Page 131]
Constructing Latina/o theatre and performance art histories necessarily is a pluralistic and fragmentary endeavor. The first and most obvious reason is the geographic amplitude and the lack of a unified communication network dedicated to the dissemination of information (productions, performances, reviews, etc.) on Latino theatre in the United States. As researchers we reconstruct theatrical histories from sporadic personal observations and from available published sources. Granted the disadvantage of not having access to some of the works as performance, it is nevertheless important to maintain traces of these works. These traces--anchored in memories, interviews, photographs, and playbills--function as silent witnesses to the ephemeral and unrepeatable performance. While Peggy Phelan makes the observation that, "Performance's being [...] becomes itself through disappearance" (1993:146), Diana Taylor counters that the efficacy of performance "whether as art or as politics, stems from the way performances tap into public fantasies and leave a trace, reproducing, and at times, altering cultural repertories" (1999:65; emphasis mine). Traces from now silent performances speak, telling a story of expanding cultural repertories in Latina/o theatre and performance art. And while Taylor proposes that "the power of seeing through performance is the recognition that we've seen it all before--the fantasies that shape self and community, that organize our scenarios of interaction, conflict, and resolution" (1999:65; emphasis mine), I would add that there are some cases in which "we" (in this case both members of hetero- and homosexual Anglo and Latina/o and other subaltern communities...