Teatro Luna is Chicago's pan-Latina theater outfit that has been going strong for more than a decade. Members of the group were recently in Dallas for the Theatre Communications Group conference, and that's where Teresa Marrero of the University of North Texas caught up with them.
Later, via a series of email interviews, she chatted with Abigail Esperanza Vega about the group's history, mission, work and the current tour of Luna Unlaced, which began in Edinburg, Texas, and continues on to the Edingburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland. One of the Texas stops is at Teatro Dallas this weekend.
TheaterJones: Hi Teatro Luna. Welcome back to Dallas! You were here recently for the Theatre Communications Group Conference. Besides what we can find out about you from looking you up on your website, what can you tell us about your Pan-Latina Teatro group? What makes you tick?
Abigail Esperanza Vega: Hello Teresa! Thank you for interviewing us! So what’s really cool about this particular group of ladies is that we’re not the first generation of Lunáticas [Lunatics]. Teatro Luna [Theater Moon] was founded 13 years ago by a group of ten Latina artists and actors in Chicago who were frustrated because a) the lack of opportunities for Latina artists in the industry, and b) they weren’t seeing Latina stories told authentically on stage. So they started telling their own. As the company grew, the individual artists’ individual careers grew as well.
Luna has also grown because we have had multiple generations of ensembles, and in order to become a viable institution we realized we would always have to accept new members along the way, so here we are now, an entirely new generational group committed to continuing the legacy that our foresisters founded for us. As the people change, and as society changes over time, our aesthetic and vision also shifts. The definition of Latinidad [a sense of being Latina/o] is always shifting especially now that we are so close to no longer being a demographic minority in the United States, and we now have to embrace multiculturalism with a renewed vigor because of those demographic shifts in our own families.
Could you elaborate a little on the composition of your group?
We are PAN Latina, that is, we all hail from different places within the Latin Diaspora. There are about 16 women in the company, but the four who are going on tour are Peruvian-American, Mexican-American and Colombian/Argentinean-American.
The rest of our company hails from Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Spain and all over Central and South America. The unique thing about us is that we represent the North American Latina voice, that is Latinas living in the United States today, and all that goes along with that (being biracial and/or multiethnic, being born and raised in the U.S., etc.)
We are a lot of people’s first play-going experience and we like that about ourselves. We tour a lot of college and universities, so we’re used to interacting and creating with the 18 to 25 year-old crowd. But this time, we’re doing it a little differently. We’re hoping to engage with people of all ages, ethnicities and genders to create a more well-rounded performance. And also, to collect stories, because that’s what we do best.
Since you were recently here in Dallas for the Theatre Communications Group conference, what were some significant experiences for you (besides your encounter with DART!)?
We were amazed with the Dallas Art District—¡qué fancy! I’m from Texas and I had no idea that was there. Not only were buildings beautiful, but the whole idea of having so many art complexes so close together was so inspiring. I just hope they support their smaller companies as well.
I understand you have been on tour this summer and you started deep in south Texas, in the Valley. Reading your blog, I saw you had some pretty poignant observations about Latin@ theater there. Care to elaborate?
We started in Edinburg, Texas, at the University of Texas Pan-American, through the help of an awesome professor there, Marci McMahon. We then went on to give a free performance in San Benito, Texas, at the Narciso Martinez Cultural Arts Center. We’re doing this tour, as Kinan Valdez of El Teatro Campesino said, “the old fashioned teatro way.” We rented a van, are staying with family members, friends, and Luna SUPER fans who were kind enough to donate housing [Read: Please donate housing]. We aren’t staying in fancy hotels or eating at fancy restaurants [Read: Please donate food], we’re kind of roughing it and relying, as Blanche DuBois would say, “on the kindness of strangers.” That being said, we’re also being smart. No hitchhiking, obviously, I mean, I hope it doesn’t come to that. [Read: Please donate a car rental.] [In other words: Donate.]
We met a lot of amigos at the TCG conference in Dallas this month, and so many of them are being overwhelmingly supportive. There is definitely a thirst for what we’re doing all over the country, so why wouldn’t we do it?
How did these Texas gigs come about, then?
We decided to start in Texas because it made sense, the TCG Conference was here, so geographically (and cost -ise) it was smart to start here. We made friends with Teatro Vivo in Austin through a friend of mine who teaches at UT Austin [Roxanne Shroeder-Arce] so they’re our partners in that city. We met Cora Cardona (Teatro Dallas) and David Lozano (Cara Mía Theatre Company) at the conference through other friends, so they’re the partners here in Dallas. Here in Dallas we met Marci McMahon (our contact at UTPA), who put together the show in Edinburg. And through a series of events that I’m not even sure I remember, we got the city of San Benito really excited, so they decided to take us on as well. San Antonio was by far the hardest city to book, which was weird, because that’s my hometown! But Joel Settles at Say Sí came to our rescue with a space just under a week ago, so that was a relief. We aren’t picky. The show is incredibly versatile, so our main question became, “Do you have free or cheap space? Does your mission align with ours? Do you have an opening that night? Let’s do a show!”
So several of your gigs materialized during the Dallas TCG conference and at the Latino Cultural Center event on June 7. You know, Texas artists were participating in a Texas-wide meeting convened by TANTO, Teatro Alianza of North Texas Organizations (a newly formed alliance of North Texas Latin@ theater artists). Roxanne, Marci, Cora, David and Latin@ artists from all over Texas were there for that. TANTO took advantage of the great timing of the TCG conference and the Luis Valdez talk to convene Texas-wide theater artists at the LCC. These events provided the opportunity to create new alliances. Do you all in Chicago have an analogous sort of organization?
Sort of, kind of there is one in Chicago. ALTA is the Association of Latino/a Theatre Artists. It isn't for teatros, but for the artists individually. We're trying to start a coalition for leaders and theatre of colors for the Midwest.
I strongly believe that people in every city in the U.S. (not just New York City or San Francisco or Los Angeles or Chicago) should have access to high quality live theater. But that’s the problem with “high-quality theater”—it’s often elitist and inherently meant for people who would already go to the theater anyway. So you have people who grow up with no access, and then we scoff when they’ve never seen a play. How backwards is that?
In what kinds of spaces are you doing your work?
We’re performing in such a wide variety of performance spaces, so our audiences are really informed by that. So far, we’ve booked a student union center in Edinburg; a black box theater in Santa Fe, New Mexico; a community center in Berkeley, California; the back of a bar in Brooklyn, New York. In California we are in an art museum in Santa Cruz,, a huge theater in San Francisco, and a warehouse space in Los Angeles, just to name a few. We did this intentionally; we’re meeting people where they are, so they’re more likely to see our work. That’s always been the point, to bring our work to people who wouldn’t normally have access based on geography or price point.
Could you talk a little bit about what the Dallas audience can expect from you show? I understand that each show is different every night.
Think insightful social commentary meets sketch comedy meets a Choose Your Own Adventure Book (remember those?). I also like to describe the show as one of those meal deals from fancy restaurants. Basically, we have an opening and a closing number that we choose for you—appetizer and desert. But the main course is completely chosen by the audience. Every audience member gets a program (menu) at the top of the show that lists 20 choices—and every night the audience gets to pick 12 of those 20. So on any given night, the show could be completely different. The audience isn’t left out to dry, we set up the devices for choosing the scenes of course, but ultimately, it’s their decision. Which is so cool! Who has ever been to a play where the actors don’t even know how it’s going to end?
Would you say the show is interactive, then?
The show is definitely interactive. Yes, that's the word I would describe.
You use a blog in your website to comment “on the road” experiences. How else does your organization use connectivity for audience connection and/or development?
We are very active on social media—Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Vine. You name it, we do it. We have found that everybody wants to be in “show business,” so we do the best we can to provide that outlet and insight to everyone. Sometimes we write blogs about our failures or Tweet about our fellow companies’ shows or state our official company position on the NBA Finals on Facebook (Go Spurs Go! by the way). We keep it real, and that’s what’s most important.
What is the overall extension of your tour?
The tour starts on June 19 with two performances in the Valley (2 p.m. at UTPA Student Union Center and 7:30 at Narciso Martinez Cultural Arts Center in San Benito) and will end in Europe with the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Aug. 1-26, and a possible week extension in London. From Edinburg, Texas to Edinburgh, U.K.!
Anything else you would like to add?
Come to the show! You will like it! You don’t have to be a woman to like our stuff—half our fans in Chicago are men! You don’t have to be young or smart or even Latino to get our stuff, at the core of it, we’re telling real stories of real people—you just have to be human. And over the age of 12. You know, because of the adult language.
◊ Teresa Marrero is Associate Professor of Latin American and Latino Theater at the University of North Texas.
◊ Below is a video about Teatro Luna: