MS. REBECCA SHEIR
We'll move now from the kitchen to the stage, specifically, the stage of D.C.'s long running GALA Hispanic Theater. GALA has been sharing Latino arts and culture with a diverse audience here in the District for 38 years. Even as the company and the city it calls home have gone through a lot of changes. Lauren Landau visited the theater on its home turf in Columbia Heights to learn about GALA's history, its role in the community, and its newest world premiere play.
MS. LAUREN LANDAU
Up on the stage of the historic Tivoli Theater, a group of actors are busy running lines and reviewing their choreography. It's crunch time for the cast and crew of "Cabaret Barroco," interludes of Spain's golden age, which opens this week at GALA Hispanic Theater.
MS. LAUREN LANDAU
In 17th century Spain, encremeces, or interludes, were performed as breaks during longer plays. But in "Cabaret Barroco," the brief one act comedies by classical Spanish playwrights, takes center stage, while other shorter scenes fill in the gaps. Jose Luis Arellano lives in Madrid, but came all the way to D.C. to direct the world premiere play.
MR. JOSE LUIS ARELLANO
It's a new play, but with different kinds of materials. Classical baroque materials with new music, modern music, old music. And, of course, a lot of fun, and a lot of fluff on the stage.
This will be his fifth time working with Gala, which he says is well known in Spanish theater circles. Fellow Spaniard David Peralto co-wrote the production's original score with Alberto Granados. He says part of the reason why GALA's reputation precedes it is that in addition to presenting high quality productions, the theater is one of the few venues bringing Spanish language theater to an American audience.
MR. DAVID PERALTO
The lack of theaters that do plays in Spanish, in the United States, is amazing.
Peralto says having GALA here in D.C. is a gift.
This is something that you guys really have to preserve, because to have a theater producing in Spanish in a country where there are 50 million Spanish speakers is a need and something that you really have to defend and support.
Artistic director Hugo Medrano co founded the theater in 1976 with his wife, Rebecca. GALA stands for Grupo De Artistas Latino Americanos, and that sense of cross cultural unity is a big part of the group's identity. Hugo says the actors hail from countries all over the world, which accounts for the different accents audiences can hear during the theater's performances.
MR. HUGO MEDRANO
We have guest artists from Spain, from Argentina, from Mexico, Venezuela, Peru, I mean, we really trying to reach out, not only in D.C., but reach out to other countries. Because that's what we are, a group of Lain American artists. In its
In its early years, Hugo says GALA focused on serious theater that required audiences to come in with a certain education and prior knowledge of drama. But he says there was a precise moment when D.C.'s Latino population started to shift and GALA changed with it.
We have to stop and start to think, what kind of new audience we have right now? It's less, I would say, educated at the time, because they were coming from the mountains and everything.
As more and more refugees fled from conflicts in Central American countries such as El Salvador, Hugo and the folks at GALA were confronted by a new target audience, and the question of how to draw these newcomers into the theater.
They were much more kind of peasant community, much more interested toward the music than the theater in itself, so we have to accommodate our season to introduce some kind of play that were much more musical oriented, much more immediate community oriented.
But as GALA switched things up to reflect an evolving Latino audience, it also kept its English speaking patrons in mind.
We did theater in Spanish with simultaneous translation through headphones, at the beginning. And, also, we did one performance in Spanish, the next day in English. We did also bilingual children theater, which is simultaneous English and Spanish during the performance.
The theater eventually traded the headphones for surtitulos, translations of the text that run above the stage. Celia Wren is a freelance writer and frequent contributor to the Washington Post. She's been covering GALA for several years and says even though she doesn't speak Spanish, it hasn't prevented her from understanding or enjoying the plays.
MS. CELIA WREN
A play is much more than a series of words. It's the visuals, it's the lighting, the costumes, the scenic design, the movement, the stage composition, you've got the sound.
She says that those elements, combined with the actors' body language, facial expression and tone of voice, help communicate meaning in a way that bypasses language.
And I know that -- I've seen, at GALA, some productions where the visuals were so powerful that they, like, made the hair at the back of my neck stand up.
She says American theater tends to be really Anglo centric, but she predicts Spanish language plays will be more common in the future. Back at GALA, Chilean actress Natalia-Miranda Guzman and her fellow cast members are warming up their vocal chords. The petite, curly haired actress says GALA not only brings people from different backgrounds together onstage, but also in the audience.
MS. NATALIA MIRANDA-GUZMAN
I've met ambassadors, people from the Consulate, and, at the same time, my friends from the cafeteria in front of the theater come to see me. Because, in between rehearsals, I get to know them. Everybody comes here, and I think that's the power of this theater.
Before joining the GALA family, Natalia spent three years working exclusively with English language plays. But she says there's something special about acting in her native tongue.
When you come back to Spanish speaking theater, I don't know, you get, you get, it's your culture, you know? You were born there. You just feel it differently. It's freedom. It's freedom.
I'm Lauren Landau.
"Cabaret Barocco" runs through October 6th. You can learn more about that production and about GALA Hispanic Theater on our website, metroconnection.org.
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