With the rise of filmmakers as Alfonso Cuarón and photographers as Emmanuel Lubezki making the headlines, many theater producers are getting more and more interested in these Latino names popping in the marquees around the country.
Latin American theater has been a constant presence in the US at least for 50 years. And the new wave of coolness that surrounds Latino cinema with big names like Cuarón and González Iñárritu taking home all the awards is also highlighting the work of these five Latino playwrights whose work plays with, but also goes well beyond, the topic of Latinx identity in the US.
1. Marisela Treviño Orta
Marisela Treviño Orta is a third generation Mexican-American playwright and poet from Texas. After getting a residency as a poet at El Teatro Jornalero!, an initiative to get workers involved with theater and social justice issues, she became more and more interested in playwriting.
Her works take a novel approach to mythology, and she weaves the themes found in European and Latin American mythology with ease. Her most recent project is a trilogy inspired by Latino mythology and the Brothers Grimm tales, with inspiration drawn from Amazonian, Mesoamerican and Aztec folklore.
2. Karen Zacarias
Zacarias is one of the most produced playwrights in the country. Originally from Mexico City, she comes from a family that was at the heart of some of the most iconic moments in Mexican theater and cinema. Her grandfather was the legendary director and producer Miguel Zacarias, who helped launch the careers of actors such as Pedro Armendáriz, María Félix, Marga López, Esther Fernández, Pedro Infante, Tin Tan, Cantinflas, and Manuel Medel.
With this huge family legacy in the industry, it’s no wonder that Karen wanted to stay far away from entertainment, but her calling would find her, and now she is breaking all preconceptions with her string of awards and innovative approach to historical figures such as Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, George Washington, and Albert Einstein.
Her bio and resume are way too long for this article, but some highlights include over a dozen awards, as well as achievements such as being the first playwright-in-residence at Arena Stage in Washington, DC. Being the founder of Young Playwrights’ Theater, which won the 2010 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award from the White House as one of the most innovative arts programs in the nation and whose curriculum is used in public schools in DC, VA, MD, New Orleans, Detroit, and Texas and is published on Amazon as “Write To Dream.”
3. José Luis Valenzuela
Professor Valenzuela is an award-winning theater and film director with over 25 years of experience. In 1985, he created the Latino Theatre Lab, which later would become the Latino Theater Company. In 2006, he obtained funding from the California Cultural and Historical Endowment to renovate the Los Angeles Theatre Center for which the Latino Theater Company received a 20-year lease.
He has directed plays such as Henrik Ibsen’s Peer Gynt at the Norland Theatre in Norway and Manuel Puig’s Kiss of the Spider Woman at the National Theatre of Norway. In 2002, he directed the world premiere of Dementia, written by Evelina Fernandez, for the Latino Theater Initiative, which won the 2003 GLAAD Award for Outstanding Theater Production in Los Angeles.
4. Lin Manuel Miranda
Born in New York, with family roots in Puerto Rico and Mexico, he is very well-known for creating and starring in the Broadway musicals In the Heights and Hamilton. He also co-wrote the songs for the animated movie Moana and co-starred in the film Mary Poppins Returns.
He has received, among many other awards: a Pulitzer Prize, three Grammys, an Emmy, a MacArthur Fellowship, three Tonys and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
5. Luis Valdez and El Teatro Campesino
Luis Valdez's vision for Latino theater tries to take the theater made by Latinos in the USA beyond the denomination “Latino,” and to make it part of a space he calls the “new American theater,” something that reflects the intersectional differences goes beyond ethnicities and differences and tries to build something that is truly American.
El Teatro Campesino was founded in 1965 in the picket lines of Cesar Chavez United Farmworkers Union. The newer generations joining this ensemble take the torch to bring to stage issues such as corporate control over individual life and environmental concerns.
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Cover photo: USA Today
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