Eight Poems for a New Theater Century
In August 2004, South Coast Repertory
Theatre in Costa Mesa, California, shut down its Hispanic Playwrights
Project. In June of 2005, the Mark Taper Forum Theatre in Los
Angeles cut all four of its developmental programs devoted to
works by artists of color and disabled artists. With the closing
of these programs, serious questions have arisen about how multicultural
theater work will be supported and nurtured in this country, whose
population is currently one seventh Latino.
What has been lost is immeasurable.
Neither HPP (as the Hispanic Playwrights Project was known) nor
the Taper Labs (Latino Theatre Initiative, Asian Theater Workshop,
Blacksmyths, and Other Voices) moved many plays to the SCR and
Taper mainstages during their long histories. Yet all provided
showcases for artists of color to be nurtured, commissioned and
supported. The programs also provided a place to meet, exchange
ideas and find much needed common artistic ground. Moreover, a
significant industry spotlight was aimed at them, giving crucial
visibility to, and opening doors for, voices too rarely represented
on U.S. stages. The rewards of being part of HPP and the Taper
Labs had less to do with immediate production than with fostering
a national discourse that encouraged Latino/a artists to write
for the theater.
During 2005, I moderated three panels
(at UC-San Diego and UC-Santa Barbara) on American playwriting
as seen through the Latino/a writer's lens. The first two panels
(at UCSD) were entitled "Re-Mapping Latino Theatre: American Playwrights
on the Edge of the Edge." They were co-moderated by Professor
Jorge Huerta and included Ricardo Bracho, Evelyn Cruz, Anne Garcia-Romero,
Oliver Mayer, Carlos Morton, Elaine Romero and Bernardo Solano.
The third panel (at UCSB) was entitled "Latino Theatre Now" and
featured Naomi Iizuka in addition to Bracho, Garcia-Romero, Morton,
and (via e-mail) Michael John Garces. The main themes that emerged
from these panels were: a) the conflicting definitions and perceptions
of Latinidad in our culture; b) the impact of globalization on
the writing and presenting of works by U.S.-based Latino/a playwrights;
c) the difficulty of finding artistic homes; and d) the importance
of recording Latino/a theater history for future generations.
Following these panels, a rich (and
still ongoing) conversation began about race, diversity, and the
continued unstable space Latino/a playwrights occupy in this country.
A national coalition devoted to advocacy, mobilization, and change
has formed itself under the name NoPassport--a title previously
used for a virtual and real-live word-song band I founded in 2002.
NoPassport's original mission was to discover new ways of listening
to and writing language for performance, crossing artistic disciplines
and making music. It performed in various configurations at venues
in New York, Providence and Minneapolis, and some of the texts
created are archived on Hotreview.org.
The new NoPassport is also a collective devoted to investigating
new ways of making text and performance. However, its vision has
expanded to emphasize the fostering of the hemispheric spirit
in U.S. theater, with an emphasis on U.S. Latina/o & Latin American
writing. Geographically, the members (some of whom are listed
after the texts below) extend from Portland, Oregon, to Miami,
The selected poems below were written
expressly for the aforementioned panels and were read publicly
there by the artists (and sent via e-mail in Garces's case) as
creative calls-to-arms. Intended for a wider readership than just
the panel audiences, they reflect the passion, frustration, integrity,
grit, and honesty of a politically progressive and activist group
Re-mapping Our Theatre
By Bernardo Solano
I asked my four year old son how we should
remap the world.
I thought asking him how to remap our theatre was too difficult
He said we needed rescue heroes who could rescue it.
He said people need help because there's water and lava and asteroids
attacking the world.
And the people would die.
And that would be terrible because no one would have goodness.
We should fight for truth.
Because justice means to save the world.
Justice means fighting for good, not bad.
So I thought, I wonder how this relates
to remapping our theatre.
What and where is our theatre, anyway?
Is it in Pomona, where I teach?
Is it somewhere else?
Is it for other people?
Other people who share a language other than English?
I thought I saw something in this dialogue
with my son.
So I asked him what kind of theatre he wanted.
He said, "A fighting theatre…
With paintings of fighting people.
Lots of boys would go there and say "Cool!"
And shows. Lots of shows.
Boys who save girls. Girls who save boys."
Stories. This is me, now.
Stories, however small, however populated by characters with accents,
Characters who have names ending with the letter "o" and "a",
Characters who believe in spirituality and courage and justice.
Justice has been on my mind lately.
I teach my students that one way to write a play is to write as
if you can right the wrong, whatever that wrong may be.
Maybe remapping our theatre should be about rewriting.
Taking the texts of our lives and revising them.
Adding the commas that will clarify, illuminate and transform
these texts into something sadly beautiful, magnificently angry,
Highly ornate or stripped bare so only the marrow is visible.
Whatever the style,
The intent is the same.
To seek truth.
To seek justice.
Villains come in all shapes and sizes…and accents.
Heroes come in all shapes and sizes…and accents.
This new map may not save the world.
It may not save anyone.
But as all good hero stories say at one point or another…
It's the trying that matters.
Red Fluid Pumped
from the Heart
(for all the Latino playwrights)
by Elaine Romero
spill in a war for volume
and control unattained.
like tea leaves,
tell who dwelled here
who they loved and how much.
echo our matchless moment
this when this who and this what.
Like Okay and Disneyland.
replace Spanish words
until we say it just right.
Like skilled lovers,
embody the other with
Until . . .
Like a pause,
Pregnant with innovation and
A new deal,
Like a contract,
Signed in our reconstituted
Like skin sacrifices,
take a chunk of flesh
to be real.
Restrung to make room for
the you the me and the inarticulate.
like candle wax,
in our hands with
By Anne Garcia-Romero
We excavate the authenticity of the earth,
To honor the plethora of voices, faces, voces
To hurtle through time, ages and epocas
To traverse geography, continentes, islas, cities, pueblos
To highlight our hybridity, our transculturation, our identidad
To widen our scope, our view, nuestra
To enlarge our spirits, nuestros espiritus
And transform the waking world.
By Jorge Huerta
How does it feel to be the voice of a people?
What do you say
when a critic assumes you speak for
Do you smile a Mona Lisa grin and bear it
Do you correct their misperception
Of who YOU are?
For as you know,
nobody can speak
For an entire community;
Because there is no one community.
Of artists and artisans,
Musicians and poets,
Playwrights, composers and actors,
All eager to be heard,
So don't listen and don't answer the
Foolish critics who think they know
Who you really are.
And don't grin and bear it, either.
Go home and write, write, write
Because that is what you do best.
For my dear family
By Evelyn Diaz Cruz
Querida familia, we have come through so
That at times, I can't help but marvel, at all the beauty before
Our ancestors survived atrocities we can only imagine, in their
struggle to be free
With such ravages, should it surprise us,
that dysfunction should also be a part of this legacy?
At times we have found ourselves searching for the strength, though
feeling a great abandon
How is it we survived the odds of our socio-economics, physical
malaise, mental illnesses, and other circumstances… with such
Too many have been the times we were confronted with challenges,
attesting to how much we can take
Yet pa'lante, siempre pa'lante, persevering with dignity,
if for nothing else but our children's sake
Querida familia, if I could have you consider
our world of sacred imagery,
such as the cross and the Virgin Mary
Inclusive of the protection from our African ancestors,
in the azabache that I still carry
We find our spirits are blended in the luminescence of candles
and yet, I am also struck
By our connection to La Madama's blackness for prosperity and
Our collective psyche records such imagery,
like Kermit the Frog along with El Coqui
As we watch the news on 20/20 and Ocurio Asi,
500 years since colonization and a pilon still smashes my garlic
While sofrito sautés for dinner, my computer boot has started
Children of Borinquen... A gente so dynamic we sway to the music
of Michael Jackson and the Beatles, who live in our mente
But we also have the music of our La Lupe and Tito Puente
The world is changing, and we as a people? Will we be dominated
again? Denied access?
Be further marginalized and inherit yet more strife?
Frightening thoughts for people of color,
these are the questions that keep me up some nights.
My heart responds to the bluebird who visits me often: I know
she is Yemaya.
She first came when my heart was quite heavy, y alli siempre esta.
Querida familia, of one thing I am convinced,
the blood of our ancestors strengthens our bones
Our family, our friends, our community will always welcome us
Remember, querida familia, the only reason we have arrived at
Is because our ancestors SURVIVED and WE are their proud rebirth.
The beating heart that proves our spirits were always free
A brilliant and yet defiant testimony!
I look out my window directly above my
computer screen and see
The hummingbirds our ancestor Tainos
have sent to me
Yet another symbol of good luck that the ancient ones professed
I wish you all, my querida familia, blessings, bright light and
de la cama al piso
y a la calle
by Michael John
La negación no basta, y
se llega a negaciones de negaciones
-- Borges, "La personalidad y el Budda"
mañana por la mañana hoy en día sin cesar
me fuí iré salgo por entre me asomo sobre entro por dentro me
escondo por donde
muslos hombros nalga garganta pene nariz - me voy ayer tras anteayer
todo un cuerpo descompuesto - intacto - íntegro -
moriré - ni mudo ni ciego - negando sin
fin las negaciones:
negando silencio suena que suena negando color memoria sombra
y lo que da luz dado a luz niego la nunca jamás y eternal para
el rechazo del viento niego - niego el mar brutal sin cesar
la idea vida o muerte idea única idea total
niego en voz alta la primera palabra mas
la mera pregunta la respuesta posible - la única
sudor miserable y sueño desamparado la madrugada insólita
algún reloj cualquiera tragando hora por hora vida tras vida sin
gusto sin hambre
la duda de cada día el aburro borroso cada
noche callendo callada
ni sol ni luna ni siquiera una sola estrella quemando
un solo grito de hielo una carcajada carnívora alguna sensación
el temor furtivo de una afuera agotada un adentro humeante una
pared sin puerta
algún sentido siempre y cuando siquiera eso y no más
ni menos - ni eso mismo - ni poema ni prosa
ni un deseo seco
niego la razón el porqué la contesta correcta niego el cuando
el donde el cuál y el cómo
te niego y me niego estando aquí contigo niego lo escrito - lo
las ganas la sed siendo hueca la lengua seca vientre podrido ojo
iré me voy me fuí llegando - llendo - me
vuelvo envuelto lo antes imposible
niego aunque no se puede no se deja no soy capaz de negar
tengo no más lo que no puedo no me atrevo no he de vivir
y con eso aguanto - con eso puedo - con eso - lo niego - solo
eso - negando aguantando
eso y más nada negando lo negado siguiendo lo deshecho lo niego
By Caridad Svich
There is the language that is
And the language that you make,
And then there is the language you take
From what there is, and what you make
It's a whole mess of language
And some say it won't amount to anything at day's end,
Cause there's always going to be a new language ready and waiting
To displace and replace what came before.
But there are words, and then there are
And then there are words upon words
That make a kind of wave,
And it's this wave I'm talking about,
It's this wave
That's changing the day to day, and the day gone past too.
And what a wave it is
this tidal wave of struts and acentos and whispers sweet;
oh what a wave
this onda of the mil-enio de mil genios;
how it moves from one pueblo to another
from one barrio to another
from ciudad en ciudad
like a highwayman or a salesman
restless with ambition -
an ambition of disinhibition,
porque que mas da?
A quien le importa?
Who's going to take the time to notice
Every day, minute by minute,
What you say sounds more like what ellos dicen
Alli, pues, down there
In the low countries and the high ones too
Where the strut is a way of being,
A way of survival against the waves
Of those itching to arrazar con todo
Y no dejar huella,
No dejar pulga
De lo que fue, es y sera siempre
Ay, la dicha
Ay, the eternal cry
The lamentation we all understand
Even without words.
And how we mock it and embrace it and kick it
And even shun it -
Hell no, that word don't belong to me, bro -
But still we respond
To its unvoiced …
It's part of us
Even if we're fifth generation down the line
Once removed on our cousin's side -
Just as those old-sounding words
Up from the hills shoutin' and a-hollerin'
With reckless, murderous promise
Bout this land here and them folk there,
Are a part of us
all the way from what's-gotta-be ancient time.
Como el amor eterno
Like the old bolero
You love to hate
And sing anyway
Come Karaoke time.
Ay es como el fondo
The deep bottom
Of the earth
That we sometimes don't recognize
Cause well, who wants to touch bottom
When you can glide the surface glide of the everyday
In this come-what-pay world?
But we listen, que no?
Every once in a while we let ourselves listen
And that's when we remember
The deep song
That's been wandering the earth,
Borderless, unwanted, undaunted
From Africa to Turkey to Romania to Spain
To las Americas y Australia y quien sabe
Donde mas, che…
Because this song is ever mutating
And always home.
What song this is
This language without words
These words without son ni ron;
What song is this that lives
Inside this made-up, broken, stolen tongue
not only for ourselves
but for everyone.
Ay, we breathe…
To The Artistic
Directors of SCR (among others)
By Oliver Mayer
Have we arrived?
Are we there yet?
(I don't remember
that we ever left.)
The statement signifies
we somehow went away.
So we've arrived --
what does that mean?
Your mouths move but
are you saying anything?
To a point, I agree
We have arrived (I hope)
from ignorance, stupidity,
from racial generality,
from mainstream invisibility,
having to apologize or shine
our way onto your season.
A human life, observed
A sense of humor, freed
A quirk of language
Crash of culture, mangled
Melded, made, a
Drama without artifice
To be lived in each
Latino piece of pop
Or art or both
Ni modo --
No matter where we go
This is always here
This is always now
This is always us
We advanced the race --
the human race --
About five hundred years ago
and every day a little more --
So yes, we're here.
We bought the ticket
and we're staying for the show,
to witness who's arrived
for reals -- not words but verbs
We're an active audience
We know the getting there
never ends, and
that's okay, 'cause getting there
means we're alive; the answer
is we're very much alive
The question is,
Have you arrived?
Core members of NoPassport are currently: Aravind Enrique Adyanthaya,
Lizzet Alvarez, Ricardo Bracho, Leo Cabranes-Grant, Juliette Carrillo,
Jorge Cacheiro, Cusi Cram, Migdalia Cruz, Evelyn Cruz, Christine
Evans, Rafael deAcha, Michael John Garces, Amparo Garcia-Crow,
Magdalena Gomez, Jose Cruz Gonzalez, Quiara Alegria Hudes, Jorge
Huerta, Naomi Iizuka, Daniel Jaquez, John Jesurun, Ashley Lucas,
Eduardo Machado, Lillian Manzor, Oliver Mayer, Rene Moreno, Alejandro
Morales, Carlos Murillo, Carlos Morton, Lorenzo Mans, Lisa Portes,
Jesus Reyes, Carmen Rivera, Jose Rivera, Elaine Romero, Anne Garcia-Romero,
Eddie Sanchez, Olga Sanchez, Luis Santiero, Paul Slee, Bernardo
Solano, Octavio Solis, Andrea Thome, Enrique Urueta, Tamara Underiner,
and Karen Zacarias.