Teatro is play-making with conciencia: theatrical performance aware of and connected to its community.
Not all plays written or directed by Latinos are teatro. Teatro can also be Chekhov directed by a teatrista with Latino casting. A teatro play produced by a mainstream theater is not necessarily teatro unless its audience includes Latinos.
You don’t have to be Latino to get teatro. Another marker: the messages resonate cross-culturally because teatro is American theater. When you see a teatro performance in the United States, it is usually, but not always, performed in English.
Confused about teatro yet? No need to be. You will have no problem following the plays on the slate for the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center‘s fourth installment of their Teatro Salón series Saturday on Oct. 29. All six will be performed in English.
“No Spanish plays were submitted for consideration,” said Joel Settles, the Guadalupe’s director of program management, “but I’m working on Spanish-language offerings.”
Since Settles joined the Guadalupe almost two years ago, the teatro program has seen a renewed vitality. Twelve playwrights submitted works for consideration; the six plays not selected for production will be part of a development process next spring.
“We want a robust professional theater development component at the Guadalupe,” Settles said.
Disclosure: Starting in 2002, I had a four-year tenure as the Guadalupe’s theater director. I have directed over fifty teatro productions over my 20-year theater career in San Antonio and Dallas. Only one production, a play I directed at the Tobin last season, was not a teatro production.
San Antonio has a long history of teatro that can be traced back to the Spanish-language playhouses that once lined the plazas downtown. Our teatro history is also connected to carpas, the traveling variety shows that entertain audiences on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border.
Contemporary U.S. teatro is rooted in the Chicano movement of the 1960s. Luis Valdez and El Teatro Campesino worked with Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers of America to make theater that was immediate, entertaining, and embedded in their community. El Teatro Campesino went on to produce the first Chicano play on Broadway, Zoot Suit, in 1979.
The Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center was being formed around the same time. From its inception, and especially during the tenure of former Theater Director Jorge Piña, the Guadalupe has been an epicenter for American theater that purposely does not follow the regional theater model of playmaking.
The Guadalupe’s upcoming Teatro Salón aims to continue the trajectory of San Antonio teatro. “By giving these local artists an opportunity to practice their craft,” Settles said, “the Guadalupe hopes to nurture the talent and potential of teatro practitioners in SA.”
I recently sat down to talk with Holly Nañes, one of the featured playwrights at the Teatro Salón, about her work.
Nañes was a student of the lateRobert Rehm, an original Jump-Start Performance Co. member, at Jefferson High School when she discovered theater. She went away to study theater at Smith College, but found challenges breaking through traditional casting methods. “I was cast as a man, an animal, and a maid,” Nañes said. “Smith, as amazing of a school that it was, killed my flame for acting.”
She turned to directing, which set her on a path to find original material to work with. After graduation, she first moved to New York, then to the Bay Area, where she worked with PlayGround, a playwright incubator. Her work there shaped her aesthetic.
“I like (to tell) human stories not particularly geared toward culture,” she said. “I want to create stories about the human experience. Anybody – a Black, a Latino, an Asian, a woman, a man, all genders in between – can step into these roles, because it is a human story. In a world that is crazy and violent, this is the type of theater I want to do.”
Nañes moved back to San Antonio in 2011. “I never thought I’d come back. I auditioned a couple of times at the Magik and the Playhouse (and) wasn’t cast. I bombed my auditions, (because I) chose the wrong audition piece – Sam Shepard for the Magik.”
Then, one night at a bar in downtown San Antonio, Nañes ran into Joel Settles and teatrista Nicolás Valdez. They talked about the San Antonio theater scene and their dreams over beers.
Years later, Nañes’ theater dreams are taking shape right here in her hometown.
She started acting again when Settles cast her as the lead in “Carmen de la Calle,” a musical by Amalia Ortiz at the Guadalupe. Nañes is also part of the founding team, with Eraina Porras and Julie Marin, of a new theater group, FIRE Collaborative, currently running a new work at Jump-Start Performance Co.
Her piece at Teatro Salón, “Life’s Witching Hour,” is a dark comedy she wrote in seven hours for Viva Theatre Company’s 48-hour Theater Festival in September.
“The play is about redemption,” Nañes said.
She has since lengthened the script for Teatro Salón, and has plans for further development. “I’m happy I found a theatrical home in San Antonio.”
Here is a complete list of theater performances at the Teatro Salón on Oct. 29 at 7 p.m. at the Guadalupe Theater:
- Adelita by Mono Riojas Aguilar
- The Records by Jason Trevino
- Broken Arrow by Tony Martinez
- Las Cochinas Christmas by Irene Chavez
- Life’s Witching Hour by Holly Nañes
- Two in Hand by Gabriel Luera