For Mario Ernesto Sánchez, this month’s International Hispanic Theatre Festival is No. 28 — and counting. A blend of idealistic Don Quixote and persuasive pragmatist, the founder of Miami’s Teatro Avante is the guy who, with the help of a small staff and myriad sponsors, makes the region’s premier Spanish-language theater festival happen each year. And despite the predictable challenges of running an international festival, he says he has no end game in mind.
“I don’t see myself retiring very soon,” Sánchez says. “We always do a utopian budget, around $500,000 [in funds and in-kind donations], then we readjust to make things come out even. We haven’t really felt the economic crash because it’s been bad all along — it’s a struggle, but it hasn’t gotten worse. I want to at least get to the 30th festival, at least to 2015.”
Sánchez’s colleague, Teatro Prometeo artistic director Joann María Yarrow, isn’t surprised at his tenacity. But she thinks his achievement and continued passion are pretty remarkable in the fast-paced, ever-evolving world of South Florida arts.
“One of the things you have to admire here is anyone who has done anything for over 20 years and continues to believe that it’s important,” she says. “The festival this year has four different venues, which is amazing. In our preliminary meetings, we told Mario Ernesto, ‘You’re insane!’ And he has also brought in musicians, an artist, a photographer, an amazing exhibition of set and costume designs. ... It’s a whole cultural experience. He doesn’t allow anyone to complain that there’s no culture in Miami.”
Beginning Thursday and running through July 28, the festival continues its recent tradition of honoring a different country each year. This year’s event shines a spotlight on the theater of Peru, though the festival’s 15 productions come from not just Peru but also Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Spain, Uruguay and the United States. The productions are in Spanish, though Teatro Avante and Prometeo provide English supertitles.
The opening production, José María Arguedas’ Los ríos profundos ( Deep Rivers) by the avant garde Lima-based Cuatrotablas, examines the effect of the intermixing of races in Peru. For Teatro Avante, Sánchez is directing a production of Peruvian Nobel Prize winner Mario Vargas Llosa’s Al pie del Támesis ( On the Banks of the Thames). This year’s lifetime achievement award winner, who will be honored after Thursday’s opening night performance of Los ríos profundos, is Peruvian actor, director, playwright and educator Ernesto Ráez Mendiola. Other nods to Peru are exhibitions of the photographs of Asela Torres and the paintings of José Torres Böhl, and the free screening of director Bruno Ortiz León’s film Rehenes ( Hostages), a 2010 movie about the lengthy hostage crisis and occupation of the Japanese ambassador’s residence in Lima by members of the terrorist group MRTA ( Movimiento Revolucionario Túpac Amaru).
The festival’s lineup is eclectic — many styles of theater, an adults-only play and a kid-friendly one, plus Baroque music and jazz concerts — and, says Sánchez, the program is full of award-winning productions.