As many of you know, for the last several years Western Arts Alliance has been working to cultivate relationships, partnerships, and projects with our performing arts colleagues in Mexico. Given the differences in language, culture, business practices, and nonprofit structures—to say nothing of limited resources—the endeavor is slow going but moving forward nonetheless.
Across the Mexican performing arts sector there is considerable interest—even enthusiasm—in working more closely with the United States, both to tour in the US and to present US artists in Mexico. The challenge, of course, is finding the organizations, professionals, and producers with the skills, knowledge, and experience necessary to navigate the cultural and business differences between our countries. For example, because of variations in culture and tax codes, there isn’t the network of established nonprofit regional theatres that exists in the United States; in Mexico, production companies form around a piece, a particular artist, or a group dedicated to a specific form and dissolve when the work has run its course.
In August, Mario Garcia Durham (Arts Presenters), David Baille (ISPA), Lynn Fisher (Frontera Arts), Tobie Stein (Brooklyn College), and I spoke at a Mexico City seminar on strategies for touring in the US market and “importing” US artists for venues in Mexico. The seminar was developed by Guadalupe Moreno Toscano at CENART (the National Center for the Arts), Bertha Cea, Cultural Specialist for the US Embassy, and Alejandro Jiménez, an independent promoter/producer in Mexico. Events included keynote presentations, panels, and coaching sessions. Over 100 arts professionals, artists, producers, and venue managers from around Mexico attended the two-day seminar, providing an excellent opportunity to develop our cross-border relationships.
For WAA, the seminar resulted in two direct outcomes.
TRAMA is an ambitious new program to build bridges between the US, Mexico, and Latin American performing arts markets. Igor Lozada (General Director of Cultura UDG, the presenting program at the University of Guadalajara) and his associate Denisse Flores traveled to WAA's conference in Denver to talk with members about TRAMA, which is a joint venture between Cultura UDG and two companies, one based in Mexico City and the other in Buenos Aires. The project seeks to develop opportunities for presenters, artists, managers, and tours in North and South America. If you missed them in Denver, the TRAMA team is planning for a larger presence at the Los Angeles Conference next fall.
Muestra Nacional de Teatro
While in Mexico City, I was invited to attend the 33rd Muestra Nactional de Teatro, November 9-17 in San Luis Potosi, a beautiful old city in North-Central Mexico. The annual festival, a program of the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes (INBA), includes dozens of public performances by the leading theatre companies and artists of Mexico, keynote speakers, panels, pitch sessions, and one-on-one consultations for the official participants and invited guests.
In addition to hundreds of theatre artists and professionals from around Mexico, Muestra includes another 30-40 “programmers” from around Mexico, Latin America, and Spain. International guests came from Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Columbia, Costa Rico, and Cuba. I was one of only two guests from the United States, the other being Kirsten Nigro, Director of Languages and Linguistics at the University of Texas El Paso, where she specializes in translation of Latin American and Mexican theatre.
The festival of 36 works lasts eight days (I was there five days including my arrival day and saw 13 productions). The Muestra is an important time for the theatre artists to see each other’s work and network with colleagues. Companies generally stay for the entire festival, and every day the entire delegation of participants and international guests gather to share cena (the late afternoon meal) in a restaurant arranged by INBA. By the end of the festival, there’s a real sense of community and respect among the companies, artists, and guests.
Muestra productions are selected by a jury of theatre professionals from around the country. This year, the jury had nearly 300 submissions to choose from. Overall the quality of the work is quite good—and represents a variety of theatrical styles, aesthetics, and scales from site specific, performance art, comedia, to straight theatre—in productions large/complex and small/exquisitely simple. It should come as no surprise that at least half of the festival productions I saw had themes dealing with issues of The Violence (Mexicans’ epithet to the terrible struggle with the Narcos) and the border. From the standpoint of touring and presenting, the festival offers real opportunities for US agents, producers, and presenters to discover new work and emerging artists from Mexico.
Clearly, building cross-border relationships and bridges between our very different infrastructures is a long term project. But given the evolving demographics of the US, it is in everyone’s interest to nurture and expand our cultural horizons. I hope our involvement in projects like TRAMA and Muestra Nacional de Teatro will help further this goal.
A Few Highlights from the 33rd Muestra Internacional de Teatro
El Rumor del Incendio (The Sound of Fire), by the Mexico City-based theatre collective Lagartijas Tiradas al Sol (literallyLizards Spin the Sun) is a highly personal look at Mexico’s student revolution of the late 60s and the government’s brutal oppression that followed. Described by the company as a “scenic documentary” the play centers on the life of Margarita Urias Hermosillo, a student activist whose actual recordings, letters, and papers are the foundation of the piece. El Rumor del Incendio’s three actors use period personal memorabilia, news reels and photographs to tell the story and ingeniously create miniature tableaus with live video to depict seminal events. It is extraordinary stagecraft—as simple as it is powerful. In the last two years, the work has received international acclaim, including two tours to Europe, and US tour support through Southern Exposure, the program of the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation in partnership with the NEA, and the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation.
Lo Unico Que Necesita una Gran Actriz, Es Una Gran Obra Y Las Ganas De Triunfar (The only thing a great actress needs is a great work and the desire to succeed) from Vaca 35 Teatro en Grupo, is a far more challenging piece: a site-specific play about the relationship between a maid and her employer that explores class, social order, and power. Based on The Maids, a play by Jean Genet (1947), in the hands of Vaca 35 the work is intimate, gritty, disturbing, funny, and heartbreaking. Gran Actriz (as everyone at the festival dubbed it) features tour de force performances from the play’s two female actors. Staged in a dingy one-room apartment, the production uses ordinary household fixtures for lighting and sound effects. All the props and costumes could easily fit within a single small trunk.
Litoral, by the acclaimed Lebanese-Canadian Playwright Wajdi Mouawad, tells the story of Wilfred, a young man from Montreal on a journey to a distant, war-torn country where he intends to lay the body of his late father to rest. The production by Mexico City theatre Tapioca Inn, benefits from the company’s long-standing relationship with the playwright; Mouwad’s poetic plays are epic, traveling through time and space, often with a large cast of characters. This production uses wooden pallets to shift the scene, and most of the company of eight actors play multiple roles. Guillermo Villegas as Wilfred gives a moving, finely drawn, and understated performance. Litoral was one of the big hits of the 33rd Muestra—and a surprise to me: although Mouawad’s plays have been translated into many languages and are widely produced around the world, US productions are rare.
Mexican Organizations and Companies
Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes
Muestra Nacional de Teatro
Juan Meliá, National Coordinator, Theatre
Haydé Zavala, Director of International Affairs
INBA is similar to the Kennedy Center, but with venues and facilities serving all the fine arts and disciplines.
Centro Nacional de las Artes (CENART)
Guadalupe Moreno Toscano, Coordinator of State Projects. CENART is the training and academic arm of CONACULTA (the National Council for Arts & Culture).
Centro de las Artes San Luis Potosi
Eleno Guzmán Gutiérrez, Associate Director, Performing Arts. This is an amazing multidisciplinary arts center near the historic downtown of San Luis Potosi that opened in 2008. The building housed the city’s penitentiary from 1880 to 1999. Virtually all of the original architectural features have been preserved. Eleno, the center’s dynamic young Director of Performing Arts, is a recognized choreographer and director who works around the country. The center has a residency program for visiting artists and companies (including artists from abroad).
Lagartijas Tiradas al Sol, Mexico City (El Rumor del Incendio)
Luisa Pardo and Gabino Rodríguez, Founders.
Tapioca Inn, Mexico City (Litoral)
Hugo Arrevillaga Serrano, Artistic Director.
Vaca 35 Teatro en Grupo, Mexico City (Gran Actriz)
Damián Cervantes, Director.
Teatro de Ciertos Habitantes, Mexico City
Claudio Valdés Kuri, Director. Arguably one of the most influential companies in the country. Ciertos Habitantes maintains a busy touring schedule performing on stages around the world.
Cultura UDG, Guadalajara
Igor Lozada, General Director. Cultura UDG, the cultural outreach arm of the University of Guadalajara, operates as a presenter and producer with programs in the performing arts, visual arts, and literature.
A la Deriva Teatro, Guadalajara
One of Mexico’s leading companies for young audiences and families. Beautiful design, production, and marketing. The repertory includes works that are bilingual, can be performed in either Spanish or English, and pieces that are not text-based. Apparently the company doesn’t have a website; the link above will take you to an INBA directory of Mexican theatre for youth (and includes contact information).
Colectivo Alebrije, Guanajuato
Óscar Rodríguez, Pinedo Sara, Gina Garcia, and Ponce Nacho. This company wasn’t included in the festival, but they pitched their project The Road to El Fin del Mundo. The play is set on a bus that travels the city picking up and dropping off passengers/audience along the way.
A Selected List of International Guests at the 33rd Muestra
La Asociación Pro Arte y Cultura (APAC), Bolivia
Marcelo Alcón Gómez, Coordinator, Festival Internacional de Teatro. APAC promotes cultural access and understanding in the Bolivian province of Santa Cruz, and operates a number of national and international festivals and conferences.
Casa de las Américas, Havana, Cuba
Vivian Martinez, Director of the Theatre Department. Casa de las Américas, a major national center, works to present, produce, and research the arts and culture of Cuba and the Americas.
Compañia Nacional de Teatro Costa Rica, San José, Costa Rica
Gladys Alzate, General and Artistic Director for the National Theatre Company of Costa Rica.
Complejo Teatral de Buenos Aires, Argentina
Angelica Berdini, Programmer. This is a complex of five venues, operated by the City’s Ministry of Culture, that produce and present across a range of disciplines.
Serviço Social do Comércio São Paulo, Brazil
Danilo Miranda, Director of Regional Administration for Brazil’s extraordinary network of social, cultural, and recreational centers. Last March, The New York Times published this story about the SESC’s and Danilo Miranda’s leadership, Brazil’s Unique Culture Group Stays Busy Sharing the Wealth.
El Teatro Español, Madrid, Spain
Joan Picanyol, Director of International Relations. One of Spain’s largest producing and presenting companies.
Ventana Internacional de las Artes Escenicas (VIA), Bogota, Columbia
Octavio Arbeláez, Director. VIA is the International Performing Arts showcase associated with the Festival Iberoamericano de Teatro de Bogatá, widely considered the most important theatre festival in all of Latin America. Octavio is also General Director of Circulart, a platform for promoting Columbian performing arts.