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  • Teaching and producing Latina/o and Latin American plays in US colleges and universities
  • Jorge Huerta

I believe that the greatest challenges to the study of Latino/a and Latin American theatre in college and university theatre, drama, or performance studies programs can be reduced to the problem of access: access to the plays, histor(ies), and theor(ies) in English, and access to the praxis/productions in English.

It is no great revelation to say outright that our theatre departments remain Eurocentric in their curricula and programming. Faculty, student, and guest directors generally select a play from the canon, and that canon does not usually include Latino/a or Latin American plays in translation. Slowly, but surely, Latino/a and Latin American dramatic texts are being incorporated into anthologies of World Drama in English,but these rare instances cannot and do not reflect the wealth of material available. Further, and most importantly, with a small cohort of theatre educators and artists whose work focuses on Latino/a or Latin American theatre, there cannot be too many courses in the topic(s) within the academy, and especially in theatre, drama, or performance studies departments. If we do not expose our students to these texts and their creators as literature and performance, who will? Concurrently, although the number of scholars in Spanish literature programs writing about Latino or Latin American theatre has grown, they remain a minority in their departments as well.

Adding to the problem of access, I have seen little evidence of interaction between theatre faculty and their counterparts in Spanish literature departments. Without deliberate interaction and exchange between Spanish literature scholars and theatre scholars and practitioners, how can the one inform the other? And if theatre professors do not expose their students to Latino/a and Latin American scripts and other texts, how can they be encouraged to read and produce these works? The operative word here is "produce." Without viable and exciting productions, plays from anybody's canon wither and die in the minds of the audiences who witness them. With the exception of plays by Shakespeare, I believe audiences will not put up with too many bad productions of a play before they dismiss that play and its author as no good. This [End Page 472] brings us to the core of the challenge we face in our efforts to bring the canon of Latino/a and Latin American plays to the stages of North America.

For the actual practice of Latino/a theatre, one needs theatrical venues in which to produce the works. This means that theatre programs would have to set aside a slot in their seasons for a Latino/a or Latin American play. But what if there is nobody on the directing faculty or among the graduate directors interested in plays that deal with Latino/a and Latin American themes? What if there are no Latina/o actors? Do the people who choose to direct a Latino/a or Latin American play have to be Latina/o? If you produce a Latino/a play without Latina/os on the production team, are you appropriating that text and its culture(s)? I think not, but only if all involved do their homework, as they would in any practical application of the rehearsal and production process.

The question, it seems to me, is this: Which comes first, the production of a given play or the study of the text? I am thinking of the old adage in reference to food service: If the food is exceptional, the people will come. If the play speaks to a particular constituency, the people will come. Over the years I have seen young Latino/a audiences get very excited by an acto or a play that reflects their language, manners, and cultures. Often, they ask for more, and some students even get involved in or create a student teatro group, eager to emulate and expand upon what they have witnessed. They are learning by example, because there was an example that spoke to them.

But there are dangers when producing some bilingual Latino/a plays in which there is code-switching throughout. Danger for both the actors and...


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