Teatro Vivo theater company co-founder Rupert Reyes hears the same things constantly from TV, theater and film producers — that there aren’t enough scripts or Latino writers.
“There is a gold mine, a solid vein of gold waiting for the writer who can communicate to both Latino and non-Latino audiences our stories, our characters, our hopes and heartaches,” he says.
Five years ago, Teatro Vivo launched the Austin Latino New Play Festival as a way to help playwrights workshop their scripts and get a step closer to fulfilling a dream. The festival, which includes three nights of staged readings, began on Thursday and continues through Saturday at the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center.
At first, festival organizers thought the readings, which feature talkback sessions with the directors and playwrights, would only attract a core audience. After all there are no staging elements like props, costumes or lighting. But over the years, they have packed venues and grown in popularity.
“To us, this is an indication that Latino audiences want more theater,” Reyes says. “And non-Latino audiences find our productions, in this case our readings, appealing.”
Bringing fresh voices to the forefront has been key to its success, as has the way they’ve been able to challenge, surprise and engage audiences. This year the Austin Latino New Play Festival showcases the work of three playwrights — Andrew Valdez, Adriana Garcia and Jelisa Jay Robinson — who bring unique insights on the Latino experience.
Valdez, a University of Texas student, tells the story of a Mexican family who wants to move to the U.S. to enrich their lives in his play “Basilica or The One With The Roosters.” But there’s a twist. Someone has made a deal with the devil, which puts the family’s move to Illinois at risk.
For Garcia, an award-winning artist, muralist and scenic designer, “La Carpa García” is her first endeavor as a playwright. The play relives the adventures of an elderly man who once performed as “Don Fito” in his family’s traveling tent show. From acrobatics to death-defying acts, Mr. Garcia recounts his vivid memories to his home health provider, Hope.
In Robinson’s first full-length play, “The Stories of Us,” she weaves together a powerful collection of stories that explore African-American and Latino relations as well as AfroLatino identity.
Inspired by some of her own experiences as well as those she’s witnessed around her, Robinson’s exploration of culture and identity began as a young girl in Houston. She remembers being in the fifth grade when her father began sharing some Spanish words he was learning at work with her. Robinson, who is African-American, remembers that as she tried to pick up the language, she received pushback from her classmates. “Why are you trying to be Mexican?” people asked. She remembers searching online one day “black people who speak Spanish.”
When reggaeton music began to rise, she remembers seeing Latino artists who looked like her but were singing in Spanish. “I saw that there isn’t just one way to be black,” she says.
AUSTIN LATINO NEW PLAY FESTIVAL
When: 8 p.m. May 14-16
Where: Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center
Cost: $15 for reserved seatings, by donation for general admission seats
More info: teatrovivo.org