TEMFest 2013, the 4-year-old celebration of Miami’s Spanish-language theater, nearly didn’t happen this year.
Ernesto and Sandra García, founders of the Little Havana-based Teatro en Miami Studio and the driving forces behind TEMFest, acknowledge as much. And they add that if not for support from Miami-Dade County’s Department of Cultural Affairs, Miami-Dade County Auditorium, Centro Cultural Español and a host of volunteers and theater artists, there would be no festival.
The financial struggle of running a small theater company is familiar territory for TEMFest’s actors, directors and designers. So the Garcías simply pressed on.
“Giving up is not an option,” Sandra García says of her husband’s philosophy.
This year’s festival, which kicks off Thursday at 8:30 p.m. with Teatro en Miami’s premiere of Ernesto García’s Soltsticio at Miami-Dade County Auditorium’s Onstage Black Box Theatre, features six productions at five venues through Oct. 27.
New this year are Sociedad Actoral Hispanoamericana and Artspoken; returning are Cirko Teatro, Havanafama Compañia Teatral, Maroma Players and Teatro en Miami. Performances will be in Spanish only.
Artistically, the offerings are eclectic: Soltsticio (Solstice), García’s take on A Midsummer Night’s Dream; Cirko Teatro’s Todos los televisores van al cielo (All Televisions Go to Heaven), Facundo Zilberberg’s comedy about three lonely women who have trouble distinguishing what they see on TV from what’s real; Artspoken’s Có lera Island (Cholera Island), Yoshvani Medina’s adaptation of a play about a Nobel Prize-winning author visited by a controversial journalist; Sociedad Actoral Hispanoamericana’s production of Manuel Puig’s well-known El beso de la mujer araña (Kiss of the Spider Woman); Havanafama’s production of Mario Vargas Llosa’s La Chunga, a play told from four different viewpoints; and Maroma Players’ Sin retorno (No Return), Rolando Moreno’s play about two exiles of different generations who meet at a Miami cemetery.
La Chunga director Juan Roca is one of three recipients of the festival’s Baco Award (the others are actor Zully Montero and photographer Asela Torres), and the recognition of his ongoing work surprised and buoyed him.
“Doing theater gives me so much joy that that in itself is the best prize I could ever win,” Roca writes in an email. “The Baco Award is one of the most important awards for those of us who do theater in this city. It means I must be doing something right!”
Roca has watched the evolution of local Spanish-language theater, seeing it change from the Cuban-dominated exile theater of the 1960s to multiple black-box theaters in the ’70s to a more diverse scene today.
“The generation that had been stars in Cuba ... has been replaced by talented actors from many Latin American countries, along with the new generation of Cuban exiles,” Roca says. “They have all contributed different accents and different visions of theater, as developed in their individual countries. That has made Miami an experimental laboratory for theater ... It is certainly an exciting and challenging place to do theater, and it is also becoming highly competitive.”
Alejandro Vales, who founded Cirko Teatro in 2008 with his wife, Jessica Álvarez Diéguez, chose Todos los televisores van al cielo for the company’s festival production because it reflects the couple’s Argentine roots. He appreciates the model created by the Garcías at Teatro en Miami Studio and their efforts at uniting and bringing attention to small local theater companies.
“Not enough attention is paid to the work in Spanish,” he says. “We have to accept that our work is a product and find ways to get the attention ... [including the] very important tool of marketing.”
In its short history, TEMFest has built audiences and expanded its venues, but the money that would put the festival on more solid footing hasn’t materialized. The shows’ affordable $20 ticket price isn’t enough.
“Growth is impossible without financial support, and the financial crisis hits us all,” Ernesto García says. “Each year we face a new challenge, and while the artistic quality is not subject to money, marketing and infrastructure mechanisms suffer when funds are not available.
“Over these four years, TEMFest has proven that good Spanish theater exists … and that it has an audience to enjoy it. As [poet Francisco de] Quevedo’s verse says, ‘Poderoso caballero es Don Dinero’ [‘A powerful gentleman is Mr. Money’]. So we must convince that ‘gentleman’ to be on our side.”