Post image for Artist, Immigrant: Gloria Zelaya
(To learn more about Marcy Arlin’s Artist, Immigrant blog series, click here.)
In 1983 I went to a theatre festival, El Segundo Encuentro de Teatro Latinoamericano, held in Nicaragua. There I met director Gloria Zelaya, who also lived in NY. We meet every few years, most recently at a FELT workshop. Her theatrical work based on Central American culture and history is deep and beautiful and very very important.

What do you love about theater in the U.S. for yourself and in general?
I love the diversity of the shows I can go to. This is true especially in New York City. Also as a director I work with a diverse pool of actors and writers.  At this moment I work with two different companies, The Fantastic Experimental Latino Theater Inc., where I am the Artistic Producing Director, and Around the Block Theater Company, where I am Co-Artistic Theater Director. I am one of the  Founding Members of both companies. This allows me to be very active in the theater in NYC.

What do you miss about working in your homeland?
I left my homeland Nicaragua when I was very young and went to study abroad. I miss the work that I did with a student theater group. We toured the country and Central America with our plays. That was very rewarding.

How do you see yourself/identify yourself as an artist in terms of being an immigrant? Does it matter to you?
I identify myself as a Latina woman with European influences since I studied theater in France with a grant from the French government. And of course I have influences from the Latin American and the Caribbean diaspora. Most of all I don’t want to limit myself. I want to be an artist anywhere I go.

How does it affect your getting work? (accent, ethnicity, etc.)
I don’t think it is only the accent or the ethnicity; it is true also about being a woman. But I have not let anything affect my work. Since I have two companies that I work with on an ongoing bases, I have created work for myself and others. As an actress I have been able to get roles in films that are fulfilling to me.

What are you doing now? Here and/or abroad?
Last summer I traveled to Paraguay and Uruguay with a group of young people in a cultural exchange with El Puente, a Community Based Organization in Brooklyn. That was an amazing experience. At this moment I am directing a play based on the culture of Central America that I feel that very little is known in the U.S.A. and is much needed. The play will open at the Clemente Soto Velez Cultural Center in May or early June. Also, I helped co-produce a short film I Am Julia that has been shown at the NY Big Apple Festival and the Queens International Festival; it was nominated for Best Short film. I directed a reading in late March, Tambourine, about gypsies in New York City. In spring we will have at FELT two classes on how to write for the screen, and another about directing and producing for films. We also want to bring back the playwriting class taught by Carmen Rivera. I am involved in another film project that will be filmed in New York City and Guatemala, since they are two parallel stories.

 Can you tell me a theater short story/anecdote about when you first came here? A more recent story?
When I first came to N.YC. I was staying with an American friend married to a French person. So I did not know that there was Latino Theater. I went to La MaMa Theater where I worked for a while. There I met Manuel Martin, a writer and theater director, an artist that I became very close with. We toured with one of our plays to the Venezuelan Theater festival, to Colombia, Panama and Guatemala. Recently the film Educating Diego was released and won first prize in the Latin Film festival. I play Diego’s mother. It was a lot of fun to do this film, and I was able to work with different Latin artists in the city.

Anything else you want to add?
You asked about the goals for FELT – to continue to produce the best work we can. We will also continue various classes like Writing for Film, Introduction to Directing and Producing for Film, Playwriting. In the spring we will present The Golden Cacao Bean an adaptation of the play by Manuel Martin Jr., based on the culture of Mesoamerica about the journey of a young Mayan woman through the lands of Central America. It has music, dance, and masks.


Gloria Zelaya is Artistic Director and and Co-Founder of The Fantastic Experimental Latino Theater (FELT) where she  staged Positive Women, Betty’s Garage, Evelina’s Heart, For the Love of Liz, The Missteps of a Salsa Dancer, Brief Conversations, Screaming in Silence, and The Imaginary Invalid, translated and adapted with Marisol Carrere. She is also Co-Theater Director for Around the Block. Ms. Zelaya studied Theater Arts in New York and France where she was awarded a  scholarship by the French government. As director she has worked with Intar, Puerto Rican Traveling Theater, La Mama, New World Theater, Mass Transit Theater, Women’s Project, Theater for the New City, Duo Theater, Garden’s Children’s Theater, Urban Youth Theater and Thalia Spanish Theater. She received the Best Director ACE Award in 2006 The Little Hut, produced by the Latin American Theatre Ensemble, where she collaborated in creating the Spanish adaptation. As an actress she has appeared in many theatre productions and the films On the Outs, (Toronto and Berlin Film Festivals); Mother Part Ten: Exploration on the Sacred Theme; Home is a Struggle (San Antonio Film Festival Award Winner); Plan for all Seasons; Cross Over Dreams and Educating Diego. Ms. Zelaya was the Training Unit Director of the Puerto Rican Traveling Theater and is now one of the acting instructors. She is the Theatre and Program Director of Teatro El Puente.  thefelttheater@yahoo.com


Marcy Arlin is Artistic Director of the OBIE-winning Immigrants’ Theatre Project. Member: Lincoln Center Theater Directors Lab, Theatre without Borders, League of Professional Theatre Women, No Passport, and Fulbright Scholar to Romania and the Czech Republic. She curates Eastern European Playwrights: Women Write the New. Her project East/West/East: Vietnam Immigrants Out of War, is a binational, Vietnamese/Czech/English theatre project based on interviews with American and Czech Vietnamese. She created Journey Theatre with survivors of war and torture. Directing venues: 59E59, QTIP, LaMama, MESTC, Vineyard, Oddfellows Playhouse, Artheater/Köln, Nat’l Theatre of Romania. Co-Editor Czech Plays: 7 New Works. Teaches theatre at CUNY, community-based theatre at Yale, Immigrant Theatre at University of Chicago (her alma mater) and Prague Quadrennial, Brown, and NYU.

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