Giving Voice to Our Community

by David Lozano

in Diversity & Inclusion

Post image for Giving Voice to Our Community

(This post is a part of the Diversity & Inclusion blog salon led by Online Curator Jacqueline E. Lawton for the 2013 TCG National Conference: Learn Do Teach in Dallas. Check out further Diversity & Inclusion interviews on Jacqueline’s blog. If you are interested in participating in this or any other Circle blog salon, email Gus Schulenburg.)

TCG Online Conference Salon
Diversity & Inclusion Program Arc
Latino/a Theatre

JACQUELINE LAWTON: First, tell me about the work you do as a theatre artist or administrator.

DAVID LOZANO: I focus on creating original plays with our resident ensemble of actors and designers about the Latino experience in the United States. Our work involves research, collaboration, and training in new approaches of physical theater. We work with the tragic chorus, mask performance, clown and choral storytelling. Explorations through diverse approaches of physical theater are the foundation of our performances. From these explorations and improvisations, we develop texts and performances. Our plays are bilingual and blend treat historical events, social issues, and cultural phenomena related to the Latino experience. Our aesthetic sources are the work of our teachers who have studied with Jerzy Grotowski, Eugenio Barba, Jacques Lecoq, and several other masters of physical theater, clown and mask. When I became the director of Cara Mia Theatre Co. in 2002, I saw how our aspirations to create ensemble theater paralleled the approaches of early collaboratively written plays created by the Chicano theaters from the late 60’s and 70’s. Our passion for theater for social change was also greatly inspired by these early Chicano performers and creators.

Cara Mia has also developed programs for youth in playwriting and performance, music, dance, and theater design that reflects the values of our process as professionals. Young people create plays collaboratively through accessible and appropriate techniques of physical theater for their age group. Students work with themes regarding multicultural diversity, the Latino experience, family heritage, and awareness of social and environmental issues.

JL: How do you identify in terms of race, ethnicity, culture, and heritage? How has this identity influenced the work that you do?

DL: I did not identify myself as a Chicano until after a few years of directing Cara Mia. Once I began working with youth in schools in Dallas, I realized the importance of encouraging youth to embrace their cultural roots. About 70% of the Dallas ISD population is Latino yet their arts and cultural experiences do not often represent their cultures and language. It wasn’t until then, I realized that a Chicano is a Mexican-American that chooses to empower his Latino brothers and sisters. Through Cara Mia, I began to understand the “emotional” history of the generations of Latinos in the US who came before me. I understood the experiences of my parents who rarely discussed the discrimination that they experienced growing up. I was able to see how much of a privilege it is for us in the current age to have the opportunity to represent our culture through our artwork in the public forum of theater. For the generations before us, being a Latino in the US, much less making Latino theater, was a great struggle. I feel a great responsibility to use my artistic voice to allow our community to continue to evolve as part of this diverse community that is the United States and begin to participate as creative participants in this global society. I am very interested in what it means for us as US Latinos to interact and collaborate with Latinos abroad and artists from other cultures around the world. Cara Mia aspires to participate in the world-wide theater movement, enthusiastically evolving with the people, cultures and new ideas we come in contact with.

JL: How has this identity impacted your ability to work in the American Theatre? Have certain opportunities been made available to you owing to “who” you are? Have certain doors been closed to you?

DL: I feel that I owe my career to being a Latino artist. I see it as a great privilege. I began simply aspiring to be an actor and I auditioned with several companies but I never found a home until Teatro Dallas offered me a small role in a play almost 20 years ago. I became a company member of Teatro Dallas and I began to realize that there is a rich world of art, history, and culture found within me, within my family and my family’s home country, Mexico.

Once I became an established actor, I began to act with several theater companies that did not focus on Latino work but working within the context of my culture and the Latino community remained my passion. Becoming the director of Cara Mia allowed me to explore my cultural roots and interests with greater intensity.

I have been surprised that my voice as Latino theater artist is becoming increasingly valued among Latino theater artists, more mainstream theater companies, critics, cultural agencies, and foundations. I am both honored and humbled by this. With this increasing recognition, I assume a responsibility to give voice to our community. I also assume the responsibility of supporting artists who integrate into our company by giving them opportunities to develop their respective voices so that they too may have an impact on our community.

I have benefited from an era of inclusion and the struggles of those who came before me. Doors have been opened to me thanks to increasing interest in Latino theater.

On the flip side, there is an intense struggle for appropriate funding for Latino theater. Although 40% of the Dallas population is Latino, Latino theater does not receive anywhere close to that percentage in terms of funding from the city, the state, or private foundations. Morever, the Latino community does not have a strong legacy of funding the arts. However, through the efforts of our board and patrons, Cara Mia is growing steadily in this area as well.

JL: Do we need racial, ethnic and gender based culturally specific theaters? What is gained by having stories of a certain community told by artists of that community?

DL: Yes, we definitely need culturally specific theater. Without it, we as Latinos will not have the opportunity to reflect on who we are. Art is more than a political argument, more than cultural theory, and more than cultural representation. Art can focus the attention of the viewer in viewing complex ideas, feelings, problems, and experiences that other ways of viewing the world cannot. Theater allows us to experience the complexity of who are and we can begin to process our experiences in a profound way. Without culturally specific theater, we are leaving a large part of ourselves out of the equation of theater arts experiences. Culture is a huge part of who we are. I have seen Latino actors and Latino audience members walk away from our culturally specific plays feeling more integrated about who they are. Rather than feeling more separate from the larger community after a theater encounter, I have seen artists and audience members feel more integrated into the larger community.

JL: What is the current state of Latino/a Theatre? (This can address recent offences and/or great accomplishments.)

DL: I think it is very difficult to say what the state of national Latino theater is because each community is so different. I am very familiar with Latino theaters in Dallas and some in Texas.

In Dallas, there has been a surge in Latino theater in the past 10 years. Spanish-speaking theater with ambitious and diverse goals have established themselves among their respective audiences. In 1985, Teatro Dallas was the first Latino theater in Dallas and represented the wide range of the Latino experience. Cara Mia was founded as a Chicano theater but our interests have expanded to include the experiences of the diverse Latinos living in the United States. Over the past ten years, companies have surfaced with more specific intentions. There are two companies that mostly produce plays from Argentina. Another company produces in Spanish with an ambitious approach to creating highly visual, poetic and physical theater. Their cultural contexts are not restrained by the Latino experience but reach world cultures and universal themes. Other companies are developing with their own unique niche. It is absolutely necessary that we have this array of theater companies that can satisfy our community’s cultural needs.

Throughout Texas, I have seen Latino theater suffer. Since Latino theater typically struggles to generate private and corporate support, it likewise suffers from the political leverage necessary to receive substantial public funding. San Antonio was the hotbed of Chicano / Latino theater for decades and its headquarters was the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center shut down its theater department a few years ago. I believe that this is a very dangerous trend that does not sustain the careers of our most promising artists. Our communities suffer. Our society suffers. The values imparted by the ethics of theater movements can disappear. What are we then left with? What is a society without theater? My father-in-law gave me a theme for Cara Mia: “Un pueblo sin teatro es un pueblo sin cara.” “A people without theater is a people without a face.” Cara means face. Cara Mia means my face.

Still, the urge to create theater is ancient and inspired artists are making theater with the resources and gargantuan creativity that they possess. Latino theater in Texas is suffering from lack of accessibility to the latent extraordinary resources potentially available to us yet we are thriving.

The national Latino theater movement has awakened our companies in Texas. There is a desire to have a national conversation, collaborations, exchanges, etc. We know we have the numbers, the skills and the talents to be a cultural force. The national movement inspires us find a plan of action to fulfill our potential.

JL: What can theatres do to better serve a larger and more inclusive community?

DL: Intimate and serious collaborations are critical among theater companies. It is so important for us to see outside of our particular viewpoints and see from someone else’s. Through workshops, collaborative play creations, or co-productions, theater companies can begin to experience processes outside of their cultural identities. Diversity and inclusion can then become more than cosmetic but profound.

David Lozano is the Executive Artistic Director of Cara Mía Theatre Co. in Dallas where he specializes in writing, directing, producing and acting in original bilingual plays for the Latino community. Notable productions include Crystal City 1969 (written with Raul Treviño), To DIE:GO in Leaves, by Frida Kahlo (written with Cara Mía’s artistic ensemble), Carpa Cara Mía: A Mexican Pantomime Circus (with Jeffry Farrell and diverse artists from the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center, San Antonio), and The Dreamers: A Bloodline (with Cara Mía’s artistic ensemble). Lozano explores international techniques of ensemble creation and has worked with theater specialists from the United States, Argentina, Canada, Costa Rica, France, Mexico, Senegal, Spain, and Venezuela.

Jacqueline E. Lawton received her MFA in Playwriting from the University of Texas at Austin, where she was a James A. Michener fellow. Her plays include Anna K; Blood-bound and Tongue-tied; Deep Belly Beautiful; The Devil’s Sweet Water; The Hampton Years; Ira Aldridge: Love Brothers Serenade, Mad Breed and Our Man Beverly Snow. She has received commissions from Active Cultures Theater, Discovery Theater, National Portrait Gallery, National Museum of American History, Round House Theatre and Theater J. A 2012 TCG Young Leaders of Color, she has been nominated for the Wendy Wasserstein Prize and a PONY Fellowship from the Lark New Play Development Center. She resides in Washington DC and is a member of Arena Stage’s Playwrights’ Arena.

  • Jesus Reyes

    “Un pueblo sin teatro es un pueblo sin cara.”

    Simply brilliant. Hits on emotion and truth.