Dallas — Sara Cardona is a visual artist and the new executive director at Teatro Dallas. Her mother, Cora Cardona, started Teatro 35 years ago. As the organization prepares to revive Migdalia Cruz’s play Fur, TheaterJones spoke with Sara via email about her art, her teaching career, and her transition into the family business.
You can learn more about Sara Cardona's art on her website; also, some of her works are featured in the bar at the new Canvas Hotel in the Cedars, just south of downtown Dallas.
Migdalia Cruz will appear in a special event, Thursday, March 14 at Mercado369 in Oak Cliff. You can purchase tickets here.
TheaterJones: Your parents, Cora Cardona (playwright, director), Jeff Hurst (lighting designer), and David Ellis (filmmaker) are accomplished artists. Is the habit of art an extension of your home life growing up, or did you have to make your own path in order to discover particular epiphanies and methods?
Sara Cardona: My parents were very supportive of the interests my sisters and I had and didn’t push us into the arts. However, they did model certain practices, which were definitely conducive to becoming an artist. The ones that resonated for me were discipline and focus. I also think that my sisters and I were exposed to the power of art as a catalyst for change. We grew up in the heart of the culture wars that took place in Dallas and the U.S. in the ’80’s and ’90s—that was a galvanizing moment. And of course, we grew up doing our homework during rehearsals!
I admire your collages. I’ve learned that collage is sometimes used in therapeutic practice. It’s presumed that a self-discovery mechanism operates as thinking shifts between particular pieces and the universal whole. Does this sort of thinking play into your process?
I am drawn to collage because it takes my mind off-line and allows me to develop an image without preconception. In that sense, it is meditative. However, the practice of trying to unify a whole from fragments is also somehow a cinematic process. I like the editorial process because it lets me move between states of discovery and commitment as a director of the image. Collage seems like an appropriate methodology for expressing the fractured moment we are passing through; we seem to be fragmented and trying continually to reconnect to one another as a society. The process of assembling the parts is what I find most fascinating. The final form is powerful if it somehow conveys the energy of coalescence for the viewer.
In addition to mounting gallery shows and staging theater, you’ve facilitated literary events, serving as moderator or translator for novelists and poets. The old-fashioned parlor game of distinguishing people by language-based consciousness or image-based consciousness meets a troubled spot with you. Do you feel that you compartmentalize different modes of expression, or is it more a freestyle navigation from one task to another?
Definitely more of a freestyle navigation. I know there are artists who are highly materially oriented, such as some painters, but I have always been drawn to narrative, both literary and in visual imagery. I am not a theater director that has physically staged work, but I grew up in the space of the theater and witnessed this power of storytelling. The theater is the space in which literature and the visual embrace. The connection I find between literature, performance and the visual arts is how they generate a separate space for reflection and healing, one outside of quotidian life. This virtual space created through art is real and necessary for the human mind and spirit to recharge. I love that the word virtual is rooted in an old Latin word for potency, like virility, and narratives are a latent force. We need these narratives—however they manifest. The power of a narrative is what takes me freely from one thing to another.
You worked as an academic for a long time. Now you're the executive director of a theater company. Presumably, one talks to actors and directors differently than one talks to academic peers and students. Please tell us a little about how you communicate your ambitions in your new line of work.
Academia suffers sometimes from being too inaccessible to a general audience. I knew I was becoming a better instructor when I wasn’t imparting information to my students, but rather creating opportunities for them to follow their curiosity. Students needed to experience content as somehow being relevant. Much of what I hope to do as an executive director for Teatro Dallas is the same: dissolve the barriers between audiences and performances and allow for an organic experience. I want to impart my enthusiasm for the content and create relevancy for audiences. I find that communicating successfully in an academic setting is being clear about your intent, but open to dialog-discourse. The same is true for the working with artists.
Teatro Dallas is 35 years old. Your mother, Cora Cardona, is a founder. You are the new Executive Director (Sorany Gutiérrez is the new artistic director). The collaboration between the two of you is also a transition, as Cora begins to take steps away from the company. Please tell us a little about this process.
Transitions are challenging, but both Cora and I are people that thrive under change. Perhaps because we have a long history of working together in different capacities, Cora is relaxed and has taken wide strides away from the organization. She has always been very supportive of my ideas and suggestions, and I think is confident in releasing the theater to a new generation of performers, directors and staff. My mother is a true artist, in that she has the ability to reinvent herself and adapt fast. She is already reconnecting with artists and performers in Mexico City, where she is relocating, and will likely be a bridge for the theater to that community. I have also benefited from an incredible board of directors who are dedicated to helping craft and guide the future of Teatro Dallas. Since I believe in the historical mission of Teatro, I think I am well suited to help design innovative future programming while honoring its past.
Latinx Theatre Commons has named Teatro Dallas a recipient of its El Fuego Initiative. One of the opportunities that come with this award is a playwright residency. Teatro has announced it will host playwright Migdalia Cruz and present her play, Fur. Please tell us a little about your experience working with or coordinating with Latinx Theatre Commons and about the process of bringing Migdalia Cruz to Dallas.
Under Cora’s leadership Teatro Dallas has had an extensive connection to the theater community outside of the U.S., especially Latin America and Europe. This is reflective of Cora’s background and training in Mexico City, which is also globally oriented. However, I realized that we needed more connectivity to other Latinx theaters within the United States. Selecting a U.S. based playwright like Migdalia for our 2019 season and connecting to the Latinx Theater Commons has been an important process for Teatro. Latinx Theater Commons created the El Fuego Initiative to support the development of new work by Latinx playwrights, connect them to producing theaters, and also support the work of Latinx theater scholars who document the process of the interaction. It has been a wonderful experience to connect with Migdalia. Our actors and designers have limited opportunities to interact with the text through the lens of the playwright, and they are curious and excited to have this time with her. It has been an organic process, and my sense is that Latinx Theater Commons recognizes each playwright and production necessitates its own process. Ultimately, this interaction is about creating a collaborative community that highlights process over simply generating a product.
The play Fur involves strikingly peculiar identity politics. But it isn't solely political; the play presents surreal delights. What challenges and opportunities do you expect to encounter while bringing this play to the stage?
I gravitate toward works that are not didactic and that are layered, both in language and thematically. I think that while Fur was written more than a decade ago, and was likely fueled by the politics of its time, it lends itself through the strength of its surrealism to a multiplicity of readings and is re-charged through the lens of our current climate. One of the main challenges Teatro and other contemporary companies face in Dallas is the limitation of black box or flexible spaces. This play is strengthened through an intimacy with the audience and we will be negotiating the stage of the Latino Cultural Center to bring this quality forward. The director, Sorany Gutiérrez has some inventive ideas about how to address this aspect of the story in the LCC’s theater.
What are some of Teatro’s goals for the next few years?
I would like to see Teatro continue to pursue a balance between developing new content, especially narratives rooted in the local, while also staging the work of established playwrights. For our next season, we are going to commission Bernardo Mazon Daher, a fantastic playwright, to work on a project based on an important part of Dallas’ history. We continuously look for ways to tell regional stories in a manner that has universal impact, so that these stories can find wider and wider audiences in the future.
We are strongly committed to taking plays to areas of Dallas that have little access to live theater, especially in marginalized communities. We have a touring production in the works, which will be presented in far Northeast Dallas and out by Bachman Lake. This project will use methodologies from ritual theater to engage the audience. In fact, the audience is one of the characters within the show.
Teatro is also developing a series called Co-Lab in the City, which emphasizes the Community as a LAB to explore alternative elements of performance. This series will be free and is designed to re-imagine the power of performance as a practice rather than a production. We will use this series to explore a myriad of ideas in collaboration with audiences who want to participate and share in the experiences of healing, activism and creativity.
Last but not least, we want to keep pushing our connections with the international theater community, which has always been something my mother has insisted on. Teatro’s artist residency and our International Theater Festival will continue to connect local artists and audiences with global movements.