Dallas — This week it was announced that Cora Cardona, a pioneer in the Dallas theater scene who founded Teatro Dallas 32 years ago, would retire as artistic director of the company; but she will still remain involved as director of special projects, such as the biennial International Theater Festival, which in February 2018 brings in Denmark’s Odin Teatret, presented the work of, and workshops in, the legendary theatermaker Eugenio Barba. Teatro Dallas has received a Meadows Foundation grant to hire an executive director by the end of the year, and to search for an artistic director in the spring.
Cardona was not only important for creating a company focused on work by Latin American and Spanish writers, but she was one of groups that sprung up in Deep Ellum in the early 1980s, along with Undermain Theatre, Pegasus Theatre and Deep Ellum Theatre Garage, founded by Matt Posey, who now runs the Ochre House.
She will continue to serve as artistic director through the 2017-2018 season, the group’s 33rd. She’ll then work between her native Mexico City and Dallas. The season begins in October with the annual Days of the Dead production, An Evening with Two Giants, featuring the work of Mexican novelist and screenwriter Juan Rulfo (who was an influence on Gabriel García Márquez) and Costa Rican science fiction writer Alfredo Cardona Peña, which will be adapted by Anyika McMillan-Herod of Soul Rep Theatre Company. It runs Oct. 13-Nov. 4.
The International Theatre Festival is next, with Odin Teatret Feb. 8-10, 2018; Cardona is in negotiations for other groups to come here. That’s followed by Mexican playwright Fernando Arrabal’s 1958 post-apocalyptic work The Automobile Graveyard, April 6-29. You can buy a membership to the season here.
We chatted with Cardona about the announcement, her hopes for the theater under new direction, the importance of training, Latin America's reverence for artists, and the future.
TheaterJones: OK, Cora, you are about to retire.
Cora Cardona: This is a point that I want to make clear: I am not retiring. I will be in charge of the international festival and other special projects. We hope to hire a new executive director by October 2017 and an artistic director between March and May next year, we are still raising fund for the ideal salary of the AD.
The new ED and AD will find it a little easier than when I started since they will be working with Erica Herrera a great administrator as well as Sorany Gutiérrez, an educator and stage director, wonderful freelancers and a fantastic board.
So sequentially, the hires will be first the executive director, and you will be staying on as artistic director…
Yes, first the executive director because this is a very important position. This person will be writing grants for which she or he will need to understand the language of the non-profit and the arts.
And the next position open will be that of artistic director.
Yes. Probably before the summer of 2018. The new artistic director will bring a new vision, but regardless, the TD board of directors wants to keep the international theatre festival.
Well, you have been doing this for…
32 years, 33 years in 2018.
The Meadows Foundation is funding the new executive director?
Yes. They are funding the first year’s salary and with contributions from individual donors we have almost matched the second year’s salary. We have had a healthy relationship with the Meadows Foundation: they granted us seed funds to establish programs such as Days of Dead, The International Festival, helped us fund our current administrative position, and now they are helping us with this transition. And of course, the City of Dallas is also a great resource for us and donors from the Latino Community.
In the future do you see yourself working as an actor?
Hmmm, not so much since I am an [Actor’s] Equity actress and that is always a burden in Dallas. What I enjoy more is directing and teaching. I also have my agent, Mary Collins, who keeps me pretty busy.
Do you have ideas for what you are looking for in the new directors?
The Board of Directors is extremely involved and knows exactly what we need. There is a committee that is made up of different professionals, such as John Fullinwider, our board president, a star in our community. He will lead the committee along with Yolanda Alameda, who was the assistant to Margie Reese former director of the Office of Cultural Affairs, Frank Bravo, an elementary school teacher and Lorenzo Garcia, Chair of the University of North Texas Department of Dance and Theater, and Jackson and Lisa Bailey who have been involved with TD since we were in downtown. In fact, they got married on that stage. These people care a lot for TD and I am sure they’ll make the right decision.
By the way, people shouldn’t be intimidated with the interview process; they should come with a vision and experience. The job description can be found in our website.
If you had one thing to do over in your 32-year career with TD, what would that be?
Hm. That is a good question […] Convince the people in charge of running the City of Dallas that equity funding is something we lack.
What would that equity look like?
Like a pie of money shared equally. Many small and mid-size groups work as hard as the big institutions. Why should we not get an equal share of funds? We too need to grow as large as the others, and need to make a living without having to run organizations with limited funds exhausting ourselves.
According to what you are doing?
Yes. We are fundraising, teaching, developing program, acting, directing and the quality of our productions are just as good if not greater than some the mainstream institutions. And yet, you never get that extra money to pay artists better. Actors in Dallas make little or no money. I feel bad because we are not paying artists enough. It is not because the groups do not want to pay them but because they have no access to that kind of funding and facilities. Cities build gigantic fields for games, but the ones in power can do a little less of that and build theaters throughout the city just like we have parks. Artists need freedom and money!
Is there any city or program that you know of that is already doing this in the United States? Do you think this problem is unique to Dallas or is it endemic in the United States in general?
I am not sure about in the US, but in Latin American, even though we are considered “third world,” artists don’t need to worry about facilities, these are there to serve us, and they are staffed with technicians and everything. In Mexico, you can find them everywhere. Artists submit proposals to get a theater space. Nobody owns a theater.
I am very curious. Why do you think this is the case in Latin America?
Such a contrast, right? As a friend of mine says, “seven thousand years of culture.” I think that says everything. The United States is a young country. Latin America is an old continent of rituals and ceremonies. It is not unusual that you take a cab, say in Mexico City and you tell the driver that you are an artist and you immediately get a special treatment. In Cuba, you tell a taxi driver that you do theater and they come back with “really, do you do [Jerzy] Grotowski, or what is your technique?’ In Cuba, most people are well educated.
I think it is in Buenos Aires or Mendoza, where they have these houses, where if you knock and you can prove that you are an artist or an actor, they give you shelter while you are in transition. And there is La Casa del Actor in Mexico for when actors retire, like the senior living facilities. We used to make little jokes when I was a student, “Oh, we’re going to do a show at La Casa del Actor,” but then we would see these famous actors and stars from the ‘40s there, it was moving.
Publicity is also handled by the government or the universities that also have great professional theater facilities.
Let’s shift to the topic of aesthetics of theater. I know that for a long time you have been introducing Latin American theatre. I got to Dallas from Los Angeles in 1990 and the international festival was like an oasis because there was nothing else around. And there is still very little international Latin American theatre happening here at any level. In terms of aesthetics, what do you see is the possible contribution of Latin America to Latinx theatre in the United States? What does Latin America have to contribute to artists here that we are blind to, due to lack of exposure?
This is another interesting question because we are about to have another international theater festival in February 2018, and we are bringing Eugenio Barba’s work. As you know, Barba put Grotowski on the map. Barba is responsible for Grotowski being known. He went through incredible adventures of martyrdom to make him known, especially in Poland that was very repressive at the time. They were working with people coming out of the camps. And they both did a lot of anthropological theater and have incredible training that we are lacking here.
What kind of training?
Physical and vocal training. It is an incredible world of training that I cannot summarize in simple terms. These actors work with their noses, with their eyelashes, and every part of their bodies. A bit like Peter Brook, that generation, that vision. And, I feel that it is sad that a lot of people here in theater, don’t know who Eugenio Barba is. But if you go to Latin America, and you say Eugenio Barba everyone says “oh really, is he coming?’ Well, he is not going to be here, but his work is. His company Odin Teatret is based in Denmark. Two actors will be here performing Memoria, in English, at our next International Theatre Festival in February 2018.
Odin Teatret’s Frans Winther, will be leading a workshop for three days, three hours a day, at the Latino Cultural Center where we will also hold the festival. But the artistic approach only allows them to perform for 40 people, for which we will seat people on the stage.
So, tickets will $50 each, better to buy the membership right? They are going to do two shows only.
[Trying to contain enthusiasm] I can’t imagine having any difficulties in selling these tickets, Cora.
And we are looking for colleges, universities, and local theater companies to send their students to the workshops. The workshop will help us raise more funds towards the expenses.
Count me in!
OK. So, back to your question, these are the type of things that we are contributing to Dallas and nationwide, although I think translation has been a major contribution to the theatre communities throughout the country. Also, we have been translating Latin American plays for 32 years, so that is another contribution to the theater in the United States and locally, our translations. General audiences are missing how much our culture has to offer them!
Thank you so much, Cora, for all you have been doing and will continue to do for the Dallas theater community.
» Teresa Marrero is Professor of Latin American and Latinx Theater in the Spanish Department at the University of North Texas. She is a steering committee member of the national network, Latinx Theatre Commons.