AMERICAN THEATER | This month in theater history

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Teatro Hidalgo in Los Angeles, circa 1920.

National Hispanic Heritage Month runs from Sep 15 to Oct 15. For more AT coverage of the Latinx Theater, past and present, don’t miss our special 2016 issue.


September 1911 (110 years ago)

Teatro Hidalgo, “the oldest Mexican hall in Los Angeles dedicated to the presentation of live plays,” opened on September 11, 1911, with a production of El Puñao de Rosas (A bouquet of roses). The production was a zarzuela, a musical in the Spanish language. For 25 years, the Teatro Hidalgo, with a capacity of 700 seats, has hosted plays, film exhibitions, vaudevilles and revistas políticas (political reviews). It was one of the most important Spanish-language theaters in the United States. Although control of the theater building has changed hands on several occasions, the programming has always been shown in front of a Mexican and Mexican-American audience and “underlined its Mexicanidad”. During the 1930s (before it closed in 1936), the Teatro Hidalgo reached an even wider Latino audience through radio broadcasts of its theater and vaudeville acts.

September 1961 (60 years ago)

Maria Irène Fornes.

In 1961, the Cuban-American playwright María Irene Fornés wrote her first play and had it produced in New York and published the same year. The play, written in Spanish, was The vivuda (The window), and was based on letters which Fornés had in his possession and which were written to his great-grandfather by a cousin in Spain. Little is known about the play’s first production, but the Catastrophic Theater of Houston notes in her Fornés biography that she moved to Mexico in September 1961 after the play was produced and released that year.

From 1981 to 1991, Fornés was director of the Hispanic Playwright Laboratory in Residence at the INTAR Theater, a national program supporting Hispanic playwrights. INTAR (or International Arts Relations) was founded in 1966 in New York. Originally called Asociación de Arte Latinoamericano, the organization was founded by Cuban and Puerto Rican writers and artists who focused on producing works by European and American artists in Spanish. The current artistic director of the theater is Lou Moreno.

September 1971 (50 years ago)

Fiesta de los Teatros opened 50 years ago at Inner City Arts in Los Angeles. This 10-day festival featured a coalition of Southwestern Chicano theater troupes called TENAZ, acronym for Teatro Nacional de Aztlan. The group had met for the first time in Fiesta de los Teatros in Santa Cruz the previous spring. Thirteen groups in all presented at the LA festival. An advertisement for the festival in the Los Angeles Times promised “el famoso Teatro Campesino y otros grupos extraordinarios” and said “you don’t have to speak spanish to have a good time”. Other bands featured included Hijos del Sol from Berkeley, playing Yzidro Macias Ultimate Punjada, which Luis Valdez called “the first full-length actor ever written.” San Diego Teatro Mestizo Show The macho bag, described as “the women’s library from the Chicano point of view”. And the Teatro Campesino played Soldado Razo, an anti-Vietnam coin, and Corridors, a first version of his signature musical.

September 1976 (45 years ago)

The play by Chicano playwright Carlos Morton El cuento by Pancho Diablo was published in El Grito del Sol, a Chicano quarterly in September 1976. The play was a sequel to El Jardin, one of Morton’s earliest plays. Morton conducted the premiere of El Jardin for the student organization MEChA (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanx de Aztlán) at Harvard in 1975. El Jardin, a comical and irreverent take on the Old Testament, begins in the biblical Garden of Eden and ends in today’s Chicago, Morton’s birthplace. The following, El cuento by Pancho Diablo (later performed with the short title Pancho Diablo at the “Festival Latino” of the New York Shakespeare Festival in 1987) is based on the lost paradise and takes place in Houston. Good fights evil in this comedy, in which the devil rises to Houston after quitting his job in Hell, and God descends from heaven in the form of a Texas Ranger to confront him.

September 2001 (20 years ago)

September 20, El Arquitecto y el Emperador de Asiria (Architect and Emperor of Assyria) opened in Spanish with simultaneous interpretation in English at the Warehouse Theater in Washington DC, produced by GALA Hispanic Theater. Fernando Arrabal’s absurd play, written in 1967, was directed and directed by José Carrasquillo and starred Hugo Medrano, co-founder of the GALA Hispanic Theater, as the Chimeric Emperor. GALA, which stands for Grupo de Artistas LatinoAmericanos, was founded by Medrano and his wife, Rebecca Read Madrano, in 1976. The GALA website lists two goals for the theater: “to bring Spanish and Latin American plays to people at home. Washington; and sensitize the English-speaking public to the richness and variety of Hispanic theater.

September 2016 (5 years ago)

The world premiere of Nilo Cruz Bathe in the moonlight opened at the McCarter Theater in Princeton, NJ, directed by Emily Mann. Cruz is a Cuban-American playwright and the first Latinx playwright to win a Pulitzer Prize for theater, in 2003 for his play Anna in the tropics. Cruz has written over a dozen plays and translated plays by Federico García Lorca, among others. He has taught drama writing at many schools including Brown, Yale, and the University of Iowa.

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