- Aluna Theatre:Building Pan-American Communities
Becoming Latina/o in Canada
Discovering that one belongs to a specific community, particularly when community is used to describe a form of identity, can happen suddenly, without warning, and often involves a crossing of one or several borders. But this realization can also occur gradually, as an awareness that is slowly brought into focus through accumulative encounters in which needs and desires of identification and disidentification1 are negotiated. As I write these words, I wonder why I recently began writing about Latin American performance in Canada; whether it stems from an assumption that I should be doing so simply by virtue of being from the southern hemisphere and whether this very act of writing performs a mode of belonging as part of a collective identity—a community of so-called Latina/o Canadians. This community, whether real or imagined, was the central focus of discussion during my recent interview with the founding members of Aluna Theatre, artistic director Beatriz Pizano and producer Trevor Schwellnus, whose artistic practice addresses the intricacies of being Latina/o Canadian with an acute sense of self-awareness. In fact, I would not have posed the foregoing questions had I not been asked how I fit into this ongoing debate about what it means to be part of, or to participate in, this particular community. The very act of inviting me into this discussion just as I was making the attempt to articulate the role and place of Aluna Theatre in the community at large already suggests that the members of this company are interested in creating a dialogue with those for whom, and with whom, they create art.
As I sat down with Pizano and Schwellnus to talk about how Aluna Theatre engages in community building—a query made in light of Doug Borwick’s new book about the ways arts organizations can develop communities rather than audiences—it became clear that defining the “community” in community-building is a conundrum we would not be able to resolve. Our attempts to identify this community quickly revealed that Aluna moves not within one but across various communities in the Americas, particularly those whose voices are often absent from the stage. Aluna’s frequent characterization as a Latina/o theatre company in the Canadian artistic landscape imposes a lens that may be seen as antithetical to a company that seeks to escape such categorizations and aims to bridge cross-cultural understanding. Not surprisingly, Pizano admits she has difficulty identifying as Latina and prefers to think of herself as Colombian Canadian, or better yet, as “Americana” in the hemispheric sense. But the need to construct an identity for one’s self as a member of a community is often met with resistance. “We started in theatre thinking we were part of the bigger community only to realize we are not,” explains Pizano, adding that as an artist she continues to be blocked into a group, one that is defined by its cultural specificity as Latin American.2
While for years Pizano rejected such cultural labels, sooner or later she realized the only way to move beyond the category of Latina artist was to embrace it and work through it from within. “If that is going to be the case,” affirms Pizano, “let’s embrace ‘our community’” with the view that eventually “we will break through these cultural divisions.” In this way, explains Schwellnus, they developed a strategy to build the Latin American audience in Toronto and beyond, reaching out to Spanish-speaking communities in Brampton, Burlington, Mississauga, and Oakville, developing relationships with the Equity Office at the Canada Council for the Arts and joining the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in Toronto. Certainly, this move to work with these communities and organizations is as much about sustaining the company as it is about creating a discursive space for Latin American voices on the Canadian stage. More importantly, however, this tactic shifts the way “community” is used to categorize groups—from a label that is routinely assigned by others to one that is self-attributed. This self-designation not only allows Aluna Theatre to critically engage with the current...