Latino Theater in Rhode Island | ¿Qué Onda?

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The relationship between tradition and innovation is not always easy, but it’s in the spirited dialogue between those two values that we continually learn how to reach more people and how to engage audiences more deeply. Trinity Repertory Theater’s bilingual production of Romeo and Juliet in partnership with Rhode Island Latino Arts fits squarely in the heart of that conversation between loyalty and innovation.

The truth is that this project has generated both excitement and concern among Latinos in Rhode Island. I am not surprised, and in fact, I’m excited.
My excitement about this production comes after seeing how the Latino artists who have been invited to participate in Shakespeare en El Verano have entered this relationship. First, the company’s Associate Artistic Director, Tyler Dobrowsky, has immediately given license to a Latinx actor by inviting Marcel Máscaro to translate the text of our Master Shakespeare, thereby offering audiences a culturally different lens for experiencing Romeo and Juliet. This is a sacred task. It is one of Shakespeare’s most-famous works! Just thinking about that makes me stand up and cheer – ¡wepa, wao, ajúa!

The concern I once had and that is now being voiced by some members of the Latino community about seeing Trinity Rep, the state’s leading theater company, seeking to offer Spanish-bilingual theatre is one based on history. It comes from the deluge of invitations for Latinos “to sit at the table” when major, traditional arts organizations in Rhode Island start to scratch their heads as they realize that the patrons/membership numbers they once enjoyed are now dwindling. The fastest and most-strategic way to figure out how to bring in new patrons is to do a demographic scan. If done correctly, all roads point to the growth and development of the Spanish-speaking population in the past decade, with statistics that show that Latinos will be the majority by 2020.

At a recent plática, or community discussion, one individual, a Latina, asked me point blank: “Just what is Trinity Rep up to? Is this genuine, or do they want something from us?”

My response to her is that, yes, Trinity Repertory is genuinely interested and yes, they do want something from us. They are looking for ways to push forth their mission of innovation and change by asking if they may join us at our table, rather than inviting us to sit at theirs.

We, the Latino community of Rhode Island, have the opportunity to delve more deeply into the art of theater making, to take advantage of the state’s leading theater company. Since it was founded in 1963, Trinity Repertory Company has been one of the most respected regional theaters in the country. The theater has produced 66 world premieres, mounted national and international tours, and, through its MFA program, has trained hundreds of new actors and directors. That’s nothing to sneeze at! On the contrary, I feel that Latinos should take advantage of an opportunity to learn from Trinity Rep, its creative team of directors, writers, producers and actors. We have their full attention, let’s grab it and run.

Over its 53-year history, many projects have made Trinity Repertory Company successful, but the strongest through-line is the theater’s history of innovation: its ability to step back every so often, survey the landscape and make changes that bring exciting theater not only on stage, but to Rhode Island as a whole.

Likewise, Rhode Island Latino Arts’ vision is to look for innovative ways to be change makers, to create cultural connections and build bridges between cultures. Our mission is to be inclusive of all, and maintain that if you are not a Latino by birth, we invite you to become part of the familia. To experience our dynamic culture. To tap your feet to the salsa beat and to become a Latino by corazón – in heart.

Shakespeare en El Verano is now in its second season run. Trinity’s Dobrowsky has brought a new approach to the translation by allowing a trained Latinx actor and dramaturg to look more closely at the language of the text and to create a translation that is also a companion piece – and not a replacement – to the original text of Romeo and Juliet. Further, he is paying attention to and fully understanding the individuals who make up the Latino experience in Rhode Island by not simply plugging in Spanish words here and there or adapting a version that speaks to a broader population of Latinos in other parts of the country. On the contrary, Dobrowsky has passed the baton of full creative license to the Latinos in the production, and is allowing them to speak to him and not the other way around.

Latinos are not only being invited to experience Shakespeare in their own language, but are also being given the opportunity to provide us with a new lens by which we can all appreciate Shakespeare’s masterpiece.

By commissioning a highly creative and talented group of Latino actors to work side-by-side with non Latinos in this bilingual production, Dobrowsky and Trinity Rep have brought a range of diverse voices and perspectives not only to the works of Shakespeare, but have planted a seed which is in complete alignment with RILA’s mission-based commitment to both promoting Latino arts and culture and the cultural richness of our nation alike.

I’m proud to be a part of this innovative movement of Teatro Latino in Rhode Island.
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Marta V. Martínez is the Executive Director of Rhode Island Latino Arts. The partnership between RILA and Trinity Repertory Company was spearheaded after numerous discussions about the current state of Latino Theater in Rhode Island between Marta and Rebecca Noon, Community Engagement Coordinator at Trinity Rep.

It was further explored with site visits to
Teatro Público de Cleveland-Cleveland Public Theater and Borderlands Theater (Tucson, AZ), two theaters that have created and maintained strong partnerships with Latinos in their respective communities. The trips were made possible with a grant from the Theatre Communications Group (TRC) and the support of Trinity Rep.

Traveling with Marta and Rebecca were: Tyler Dobrowsky, Associate Artistic Director at Trinity Rep. and also on the board of RILA; Jude Sandy and Angela Brazil, members of the Trinity Rep. resident acting company; and Kate Sabatini, Trinity Rep board member.

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