Miami’s International Hispanic Theatre Festival has never been a simple celebration of art.
Not in its first year, 1986, when plans to present Dolores Prida’s one-act play Coser y cantar sparked impassioned protests that led to the show’s cancellation (Prida was part of a group advocating dialogue between the United States and Cuba).
Not in any year since then, given that festival director Mario Ernesto Sánchez invariably has to scramble for funding, make sure all the invited artists get visas (they sometimes don’t) and put out the fires that pop up when you’re running a monthlong festival featuring companies from multiple countries.
And yet: Here he is, three decades later, as the XXX International Hispanic Theatre Festival is about to open at the Arsht Center’s Carnival Studio Theater with a vivid work of Afro-Brazilian dance theater from Los Angeles-based Viver Brasil.
“It was a local festival, and at the end of the second year I said, ‘If I have all the responsibility, I need to have all the power,’” says Sánchez, who is also the founder-artistic director of Miami’s Teatro Avante. “Then I went to the Ford Foundation and got a grant of $50,000 to make it a national festival. The Rockefeller Foundation’s grant in 1989 made it an international festival.”
This year’s special anniversary edition pays tribute to Brazil, and in many ways it’s one of the most language-inclusive celebrations in the festival’s history.
Of the dozen productions that will be presented by the time the festival ends on July 26, just four will be done only in Spanish. Four will be performed in Spanish with English supertitles, one in English with Spanish supertitles, one in Portuguese with Spanish supertitles and another in Portuguese with English supertitles. And the Viver Brasil opener, Peace Transcends, is driven by music, dance and, says founding artistic director Linda Yudin, themes of “birth, devotion, youthful play, chaos, ancestry, celebration.”
The subjects of the plays are as varied as the artists, their countries and their theatrical backgrounds.
In a nod to the festival’s beginnings, Sánchez is doing a new production of René R. Alomá’s Alguna cosita que alivie el sufrir (A Little Something to Ease the Pain), the play Teatro Avante presented at the first festival. In addition to heading the festival, he’s directing and performing in the piece about a politically divided Cuban family.
“I care about the 18 or 19 hats I have to wear,” says the multitasking Sánchez. “I do tend to make things worse for myself. I don’t know how I’m gonna do it, but I’m gonna do it.”
From Miami’s Teatro Prometeo, Cristina Rebull’s play Cena para seis (Dinner for Six) is an absurdist, dark comedy-mystery. El Salvador’s Teatro del Azoro is bringing Los más solos (The Loneliest), about four convicts mentally damaged by civil war. Playwright-actor Silvero Pereira, who spent six months researching stories of murder, suicide, homophobia, trans phobia and personal victories, has created a documentary theater piece titled BR-Trans, about Brazil’s transgender community.
Mexican director-playwright David Gaitán’s Simulacro de idilio (A Simulated Romance) focuses on a teacher’s colliding personal and professional lives, and though it uses humor, it’s an example of the significant theater he tries to create.
“The eternal conflict of sacrificing content in order to aspire to bigger audiences many times ends up in the trivialization of topics which, by themselves, could be really powerful,” Gaitán observes in an email.
Swallows (Golondrinas) by Aminta de Lara of New York’s Sinteatros Intimus uses the story of two sisters (played by male actors) confronting past abuse as a metaphor for what she calls “the political tragedy that is rooted in Venezuela.”
New York’s Nettles Artists Collective is presenting a multimedia piece in Portuguese with English supertitles. Apple of My Eye (Menina dos meus Olhos) by Tathiana Piancastelli, a playwright-actress with Down Syndrome, tracks the story of a young woman’s search for love and acceptance. Director Débora Balardini helped transform a five-page script with 19 characters into the production that will play Miami because, she says, “Tathiana has a voice that needs to be heard, just like any other person who is willing to share her creativity with the world.”
Madrid’s Zarzuguiñol is bringing a puppet zarzuela for free performances on Key Biscayne and during the festival’s International Children’s Day event.
Miami’s Adriana Barraza Black Box and Nobarte are collaborating on Príncipe Azul (Prince Charming), the story of two men touched by love over half a century. Madrid’s Cuartoymitad is bringing Escriba su nombre aquí (Write Your Name Here), a comedy about identity. And Uruguay’s Complot is performing Ex — que revienten los actores (Ex — To Hell with the Actors), a play that mixes political issues and science fiction.
Joann María Yarrow, artistic director of Teatro Prometeo and co-director of Rebull’s Cena para seis, describes Sánchez as “super tenacious” and thinks the kind of theater he presents at the festival is significant.
“This is not commercial theater. It’s very high-end, artistic theater. It’s highly cultural, highly intellectual, very exciting to talk about,” she says. “Latin American theater is smart and artistically creative, and it elevates the status of the way Latinos are perceived.”
Neher Jacqueline Briceño, the director of Príncipe Azul, agrees that the festival has been an important force in Miami’s cultural life.
“Thanks to this festival, Miami has been able to enjoy for 30 consecutive years the work of hundreds of creators, specialists, performers and writers,” she says. “Every year in July it becomes a cultural city open to the theater of the world. ... People in Miami have an opportunity to enjoy plays from other countries which they might ordinarily not have ready access to.”
In the past, when the festival seemed especially difficult or he was faced with adjusting his customary “utopian” budget downward from $500,000, Sánchez vowed to persevere until the festival turned 30.
So now what?
“My daughter wants me to retire, to lead the good life that retirees do. I told her I was very tired of solving crises, looking for funding, asking for favors,” he says.
Then he reconsiders.
“I have to be the last one to turn off the lights. They’ll have to throw me out. As long as a child in the audience gets emotional, as long as someone cries, as long as a grandmother laughs, I’ll go on,” he says. “The 31st festival is July 7-24, 2016.”
If you go
What: XXX International Hispanic Theatre Festival.
When: July 9-26.
Cost: $30-$34, depending on venue ($5 per ticket discount for seniors, students, theatergoers with disabilities).
Information: 305-445-8877 or www.teatroavante.com; 305-949-6722 or www.arshtcenter.org.; 305-237-3262 or www.prometeotheatre.com; 305-547-5414 or www.miamidadecountyauditorium.org; 305-436-2916 or www.abactingstudio.com.
Carnival Studio Theater in the Ziff Ballet Opera House, Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami (Carnival).
Teatro Prometeo, Miami Dade College Wolfson Campus, 300 NE Second Ave., Miami (Prometeo).
On.Stage Black Box Theatre, Miami-Dade County Auditorium, 2901 W. Flagler St., Miami (On.Stage).
Miami Dade College Koubek Theater, 2705 SW Third St., Miami (Koubek).
Adriana Barraza Black Box, 3100 NW 72nd Ave., Suite 127, Miami (AB Black Box).
Miami Dade College InterAmerican Campus, 627 SW 27th Ave., Miami (InterAmerican).
Key Biscayne Community Center, 10 Village Green Way, Key Biscayne (Key Biscayne).
‘Peace Transcends/Aje’ by Viver Brasil of Los Angeles; 8:30 p.m. July 9-11, 5 p.m. July 12, Carnival (dance theater).
‘Cena para seis’ (‘Dinner for Six’) by Teatro Prometeo of Miami; 8:30 p.m. July 10-11, Teatro Prometeo (Spanish with English supertitles).
‘Los mas sólos’ (‘The Loneliest’) by Teatro del Azoro of San Salvador, El Salvador; 8:30 p.m. July 10-11, 5 p.m. July 12, On.Stage (Spanish).
‘BR-TRANS’ by Colectivo Artistico as Trasvestidas of Fortaleza and Porto Alegre, Brazil; 8:30 p.m. July 10-11, 5 p.m. July 12, Koubek (Portuguese with Spanish supertitles).
‘Simulacro de idilio’ (‘A Simulated Romance’) by Teatro de Babel and Dramafest of Mexico City, Mexico; 8:30 p.m. July 17-18, 5 p.m. July 19, Carnival (Spanish).
‘Swallows’ (‘Golandrinas’) by Sinteatros Intimus of New York; 8:30 p.m. July 17-18, 5 p.m. July 19, On.Stage (English with Spanish supertitles).
‘Apple of My Eye’ (‘Meninas dos meus Olhos’) by Nettles Artist Collective of New York; 8:30 p.m. July 17-18, 5 p.m. July 19, Koubek (Portuguese with English supertitles).
‘Zarguiñol’ by Zarguiñol of Madrid, Spain; 5:45 p.m. July 18 at Key Biscayne, 6 p.m. July 19 at InterAmerican (Spanish).
‘Alguna cosita que alivie el sufrir’ (‘A Little Something to Ease the Pain’) by Teatro Avante of Miami; 8:30 p.m. July 23-25, 5 p.m. July 26, Carnival (Spanish with English supertitles).
‘Príncipe Azul’ (‘Prince Charming’) by Adriana Barraza Black Box and Nobarte of Miami; 8:30 p.m. July 23-24, AB Black Box (Spanish).
‘Escriba su nombre aquí’ (‘Write Your Name Here’) by Curartoymitad Teatro of Madrid, Spain; 8:30 p.m. July 24-25, 5 p.m. July 26, On.Stage (Spanish with English supertitles).
‘Ex — que revienten los actores’ (‘Ex — To Hell With the Actors’) by Complot of Montevideo, Uruguay; 8:30 p.m. July 24-25, 5 p.m. July 26, Koubek (Spanish with English supertitles).