Paint This Desert speaks with Arléne Rivera, co-writer of "Más Americanos," a musical scheduled for performances on September 8 and 9 at Winchester Cultural Center. Then PtD briefly touches base with Patrick Gaffey, Cultural Program Supervisor for Clark County Nevada, about the center's theater programming.
the Besides being HQ to Clark County's public art program, Winchester Cultural Center is busy on any given day that it is open. The art gallery is always booked. The small conference rooms double as art studios, poetry hives, rehearsal halls or receptions. And the theater hosts a range of community meetings and performance programming. Now Winchester Cultural Center has tapped into theatrical performances that speak directly to a Hispanic audience, reflecting a demographic change in Southern Nevada.
And as it is with Latino Art, at times content is story driven and features political conflict.
A 2015 conference in Austin, Texas, explored how Latino art challenges mainstream thinking was a tradition. "There's a long history of Latino political art and there's been a resurgence beginning in the 1960s that continues today," said Gilberto Cardenas, a sociology professor at the University of Notre Dame, to NBC Latino. "Many artists were also activists and worked collectively with their communities to improve conditions of Latinos in the U.S."
That's also applies to Latino theater.
Winchester Cultural Center will soon see a production that can be filed under that tradition. "Más Americanos" is a musical based on "The Space Traders" by Derrick Bell and continues some demanding political commentary. The musical is about aliens making contact with the U.S. to offer resources in exchange for 11 million people. The release goes on to say "At the center of the controversy is a young DREAMer, struggling to understand her place in the exchange and trying to keep her family together."
What is intriguing is that "Más Americanos" is a musical. There will be some Spanish lyrics, but the libretto was written with an English speaking audience in mind.
Patrick Gaffey, Cultural Program Supervisor for Clark County Nevada.
Paint This Desert: Latino-themed theater is an interesting change. Has Spanish programming increased box office?
Patrick Gaffey: Winchester is a cultural center, and the Hispanic cultures have been particularly responsive. Mexican folkloric dance concerts have drawn full houses for the last twenty years. The success of Spanish-language theatre here was a surprise, because English-language theatre had not done well, yet plays in Spanish drew full houses. Now English language opera and theatre is beginning to do well, too.
PtD: What is the backstory on how producing new Latino/a theater?
PG: Stacy Mendoza came to us and proposed presenting “The Vagina Monologues” in Spanish. Another group had already presented the play in English. Stacy mentioned that she had produced it in Spanish the previous seven years in Las Vegas, which made it seem she had already used up a very specialized audience. But we tried it anyway, and she sold out the house. The next year she did two shows and sold them both out.
Then she and Alma Lopez presented a comedy by Mexican playwright Humberto Robles, who is very well known in Europe. Robles saw a video of the Winchester production, contacted Stacy, and told her how impressed he was. He then told her that if she would produce all of his plays, he would give her a greatly reduced price for the rights, so Mendoza and Lopez have produced a series of his works, from comedies to the very dark “Mujeres de Arena,” about the murders of women in Cuidad Juarez.
PtD: Does that reveal a need to look at cultural events for changing demographics in Southern Nevada?
PG: Winchester tries to keep up with the population as it changes. For the first time, on September 25, we will present Ethiopian programming, namely the music and dance group Fendika from Addis Ababa. We hope to build a strong relationship with the Ethiopian community as we have with so many other ethnic communities in Las Vegas.
ADDED PERFORMANCE NOTE: On September 13, Winchester Cultural Center will host “Both Eyes Open,” a multidisciplinary chamber opera by Max Giteck Duykers and Philip Kan Gotands combines physical theater, interactive audio and video, contemporary music, singing, extended vocal techniques, chanting, spoken word, and modern dance to explore the Japanese internment during WWII and its aftermath.
ABOVE: Detail of new mural by D*Face at the Plaza Hotel.