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Where to see shows exploring Hispanic culture in English and Spanish
According to the 2010 census, there are approximately 2.3 million people of Hispanic descent living in NYC, many of whom speak Spanish. That's more than 28% of our city's population, and yet the number of marquees in Times Square en español usually equals zero. While Broadway has experimented with un poquito de Spanglish here and there (gracias, Lin-Manuel Miranda!), NYC's best theatre in Spanish or about Hispanic culture is happening beyond the Great White Way. Here are five Latinx companies you need to know, though you don't need to be bilingual. Subtitles are available for productions performed completely in Spanish, and many offerings are in English.
1. Repertorio Español
138 East 27th Street between Lexington and Third Avenues in Kips Bay
Founded in 1968 by René Buch and Gilberto Zaldívar, this prolific company has mounted more than 250 Latin-American, Spanish and Hispanic-American shows, from classics by Cervantes, Calderón and Lope de Vega, to contemporary works by Caridad Svich, Nilo Cruz and Lin-Manuel Miranda. The very first reading of Miranda's Tony-winning musical In the Heights took place at the theatre, where he worked as an intern in his youth. Under the attentive eye of Robert Federico, who became Repertorio's executive producer in 2005, the company has also become an incubator for female playwrights of Hispanic descent. The theatre's accomplished acting ensemble performs up to five shows in rep, so you can catch a comedy like El Crédito in the afternoon, and return in the evening for a musical such as La Canción, the first all-Spanish tuner done in the U.S. Dance and stand-up comedy are also on its rotating schedule. Although all offerings are done in Spanish, English subtitles via Simultext® In-Seat Captioning System are available by request at select performances.
2. Pregones / Puerto Rican Traveling Theater
571-575 Walton Avenue between East 149th and East 150th Streets in the South Bronx
304 West 47th Street between Eighth and Ninth Avenues in Midtown West
In 1967, the late actress Míriam Colón founded the Puerto Rican Traveling Theater, which grew out of her involvement in NYC's burgeoning Hispanic theatre scene. The troupe's first show, an English-language production of René Marqués' classic La carreta/The Ox Cart, starred Colón and Raul Julia. Twelve years later, Rosalba Rolón started Pregones to create new works in the style of Latinx colectivos (ensembles). In 2014, the companies joined forces and now present performances out of their shared South Bronx and 47th Street theatres. With an emphasis on collaborative play-making, Pregones/PRTT is a vibrant part of Latinx life in NYC, frequently working with other cultural organizations including the Center for Puerto Rican Studies and the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.
3. Thalia Hispanic Theatre
41-17 Greenpoint Avenue between 41st and 42nd Streets in Sunnyside, Queens
The sole Spanish-English theatre in Queens, Thalia was founded by actress and director Silvia Brito in 1977 and specializes in original programming that reflects the diversity of the borough's Latinx community. The company presents theatre, dance and music performances by Spanish, Hispanic-American and Latin-American artists, and productions feature bilingual casts alternating performances in each language. Thalia is the US artistic home of composer and bandoneon maestro Raul Jaurena, whose compositions for the musical Te amo tango were recorded live at the theatre, ultimately wining a 2007 Latin Grammy.
4. INTAR Theatre
500 West 52nd Street between Tenth and Eleventh Avenues in Midtown West
The late Max Ferrá, who founded INTAR in 1966, once said, "We have created the Latino playwright in this country." A quick perusal of the dramatists who got their start at INTAR—Pulitzer Prize winner Nilo Cruz, Oscar nominee Jose Rivera, Octavio Solís, Migdalia Cruz and Caridad Svich to name a handful—proves this was no idle boast. After producing plays exclusively in Spanish, the Cuban-born Ferrá realized many American playwrights of Hispanic descent were only writing in English, so he created INTAR as a place to showcase their work. Notable productions include The Cuban Swimmer, La Chunga and Chronicle of a Death Foretold.
5. Teatro SEA
The Clemente Soto Vélez Cultural & Educational Center, 107 Suffolk Street between Delancey and Rivington Streets on the Lower East Side
Founded by Dr. Manuel A. Morán in 1985, SEA is best known for its educational programming, notably bilingual shows for young audiences: adaptations of Hispanic stories featuring actors and whimsical puppets as well as "Latinized" versions of famous fairy tales like Pinocchio and Little Red Riding Hood. SEA also produces grown-up productions that celebrate the legacy of Latinx music such as La Gloria, a delightful cabaret set in heaven and starring puppet versions of Celia Cruz and Tito Puente.
Jose Solís is a NY-based writer and editor who's been covering theatre and film professionally since 2003. He is a member of the Drama Desk. Follow him at @josesolismayen. Follow TDF at @TDFNYC.
Top image: Repertorio Español's production of Valor, agravio y mujer. Photo by Michael Palma Mir.
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