In 2013, Smithsonian Magazine heralded Houston as the “Next Great American City,” citing its ethnic and cultural transformation over the last few decades as well as its reputation as a city where people can achieve the so-called “American Dream.” The Kinder Institute for Urban Research and the Hobby Center for the Study of Texas at Rice University released a study that showed how Houston holds the nation’s most equitable distribution of the country’s major racial and ethnic groups: Asian, Latina/o, black, and white people. In Harris County, the demographics reveal that white people comprise only 33 percent of the population whereas Latina/os are 41 percent and African Americans 18.4 percent. In fact, of the population under 30-years-old, only 22 percent are white. The same year, an NPR feature celebrated this rich diversity. Still, in 2012 Pew Research Center ranks Houston as the most economically segregated city in the nation.
Houston is growing at an astronomical pace and there is no evidence that this is slowing down. Luckily, the arts are along for this ride. In 2015 and 2016 alone, the city has seen an unprecedented boom in the arts. The Alley Theatre just completed a $46.5 million makeover. The $25 million MATCH (Midtown Arts and Theater Center Houston) opened with four theatres, an art gallery, rehearsal space, and office space. Main Street Theatre unveiled a $2 million overhaul of their space. AD Players Theater broke ground on a $49 million facility in the Galleria area that will house three theatres, a scenic shop, classrooms, and offices. Queensbury Theatre (formerly the Country Playhouse) opened its new $6.5 million theatre. And the Museum of Fine Arts Houston broke ground on its $450 million expansion (including a theatre).
Despite what the demographics and influx of cultural arts activity reveals, Latina/o representation on stage in Houston is few and far between. In the 2015–2016 theatre season, out of all the full productions at the city’s leading professional theatres such as the Alley, Stages Repertory Theatre, and Main Street Theatre, only two were by a Latina/o author: The Danube by Maríe Irene Fornés at Catastrophic Theatre and The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity by Kristoffer Diaz at Stages. To repeat, in a city with over 2.1 million people (over 5 million in the metro area) at least 40 percent of which are Latina/o, there were only two Latina/o plays produced during the entire professional theatre season. To me, these numbers are startling and reveal that Houston is wildly behind other places with similar demographic diversity across the country such as New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago where Latina/o stories are frequently seen on a variety of stages: big, small, Latina/o, LORT, university, high school—you name it.
Continue reading at Café Onda/HowlRound
Here, Trevor Boffone interviews Hamilton’s music director, orchestrator, and co-arranger Alex Lacamoire about his journey as an artist, his Cuban heritage, and collaborating with Lin-Manuel Miranda on In the Heights and Hamilton.
Alex Lacamoire with the 2016 Grammy for Best Musical Theatre Album. Photo courtesy of Laura Heywood Media.
Trevor Boffone: Growing up, who had the greatest influence on your decision to become a musician?
Alex Lacamoire: Probably my cousin Linda, who bought me my first piano when I was four. One of my earliest memories is of walking out my front door to find Linda on the street, standing behind a moving truck that was unloading an upright piano and bringing it into my house. Linda was young, still in college, and not wealthy by any stretch, yet she still shelled out her own money to buy that instrument as a gift. Years later, just after Heights had become a hit, I asked what compelled her to do that for me. She said: “Primo…When you were two years old, you would sit in front of your home-stereo speaker and just stare into it, hypnotized by the sounds coming out of it. You were born to be a musician. Your parents couldn’t afford a piano, and I couldn’t let the opportunity for you to learn be denied.” Naturally, I cried when she told me that story.
Continue reading at Café Onda/HowlRound.
Lin-Manuel Miranda reading Alexander Hamilton. The cast of Fun Home rapping. A Spring Awakening reunion. The “Confrontation” from Les Mis. Lin-Manuel Miranda and Lea Salonga singing “A Whole New World.” Okieriete Onaodowan singing “Defying Gravity” as Mickey Mouse. Alex Lacamoire playing the melodica. You didn’t know you wanted it, but when you got it, you loved it.
I’ve been to many lotteries (won a few, lost a lot). It’s usually uneventful. A theatre employee collects names on paper slips, pulls them out of a bucket, calls out the winners, the winners do some sort of awkward celebration (guilty as charged), and that’s about it, folks.
Enter Lin-Manuel Miranda.
Continue reading at Café Onda/HowlRound.
While issues of casting and diversity in theater have likely always been around, several recent controversies in 2015 have led to a new crop of discussions about casting white actors in ethnically-specific roles.
This year alone, issues arose after the New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players released promotional materials for The Mikado that used yellow face, Katori Hall’s The Mountaintop was cast with a white actor playing Martin Luther King, Jr., and Llyod Suh’s Jesus in India was cast with two white actors and one mixed-raced actor playing roles specifically written for South Asian characters.
In light of these controversies, playwright Marisela Treviño Orta and I began brainstorming one night on Facebook about how Café Onda and the Latina/o Theatre Commons could intervene in this discussion. We asked the following questions to 5 Latina/o playwrights: Magdalena Gómez, Irma Mayorga, Marisela Treviño Orta, Elaine Romero, and Martín Zimmerman.
Should Latina/o roles be cast with non-Latina/o actors? How do you approach productions at colleges and universities when your play calls for characters of color but the acting pool at the university may or may not have the actors? How are you thinking about casting?
The responses that we received are rich in their content, diversity, and style. It’s worth checking out the essay for Magdalena Gómez’s poem, “Casting Call,” alone. Here are a few teasers:
“I’ve been fortunate enough to see university faculty lead efforts to diversify departments by programming work they needed to go outside their known actor pool to cast. These faculties just firmly believed they would find good actors of color to fill those roles if they worked hard enough. And 100 percent of the time they found those actors of color.” — Martín Zimmerman
“Can my work be done at a university level without causing harm? And by harm I mean perpetuating brown face?” —Marisela Treviño Orta
Sleeping Weazel’s Badass Festival at Boston Playwrights’ Theatre, featuring Robbie MCauley, Magdalena Gomez, and Kate Snodgrass. Photo by David Marshall.
Please visit Café Onda for the entire essay and to add your voice to the discussion!
I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Chicana playwright Josefina López about her work as a playwright, mentor, and community leader at CASA 0101 Theater in Boyle Heights.
López founded CASA 0101 Theater in Boyle Heights in 2000 to nurture the future storytellers of Los Angeles and to provide a space for Latin@ art-making on Los Angeles’s Eastside. This year marks the company’s fifteenth year—its quinceañera—of producing community-engaged theatre and cultural arts production. Here, López reflects on the past, present, and future of CASA 0101 as well as on her own position as a playwright, mentor, and community leader.
“One way we heal ourselves is by giving to others that which we wish was given to us. When our heart can expand to be big enough to be of service to others, our problems tend to disappear, because most of our problems come from being and seeing ourselves as small and insignificant.” – Josefina López
Please see Café Onda to read the entire interview.
Check out my Pedagogy of the Panza interview for The Panza Monologues Blog!
Check out Mariana Alegria and I’s Panza Monologues Blog about Amaranto Productions’ recent Panza Performance Platica at Houston Community College.
Check out my latest blog at Cafe Onda for the Latina/o Theatre Commons