Teatro Vivo: Giving Voice to Its Own

In a departure, the company mounts a program of plays by four of its artists

L-R: Michael Mendoza, Natalie Goodnow, Celeste Mendoza,
Rupert Reyes
L-R: Michael Mendoza, Natalie Goodnow, Celeste Mendoza, Rupert Reyes

Let's say you really love driving. You have a nice car, you're a good driver, and your friends all like to ride with you. Even so, you'll still want to get out and stretch your legs from time to time.

To an extent, that's what Teatro Vivo is doing with its upcoming production, Voces de Vivo, Voces de la Cultura Latina, an evening of four one-act plays. Since May 2000, the company has built a record of producing bilingual theatre focusing on issues relevant to the Latino community. It recently obtained nonprofit status, and its mission is in part to present "culturally relevant theatre about the Latino experience." With Voces de Vivo, however, Teatro Vivo has set loose its own company members, giving four playwrights the opportunity to write about whatever they want and to show themselves off as theatre artists.

"This production is a way for the artists in our group to do something that relates not to them as Latinos but as artists," says Artistic Director Rupert Reyes, who is also one of the four playwrights. "We hope to show a little bit of flexibility in our company."

Within that idea of flexibility is a glimmer of the larger debate among theatre artists about what constitutes Latino theatre vs. plain ol' theatre or what, if anything, separates theatre that focuses on any one cultural group's experiences from mainstream theatre. "We have that conversation in the company constantly," says Reyes. "What is a Latino play? What is not a Latino play?"

Production coordinator and playwright Celeste Guzman Mendoza sees the confusion but doesn't dwell on it. "I'm like, 'I don't care what you call it; just come see it,'" she says. "A lot of it is semantic. You can't really change people's prejudices; you just hope they see [the work] and enjoy it."

The four plays cover a broad range of subject matter: Natalie Goodnow's play, "Munti," is about trees; Reyes' play, "2 Souls & a Promise," is about love that stretches into eternity; Celeste Guzman Mendoza's "Adela's Altar" presents a woman who hears the voice of God; and "Las Amandas," by Michael Mares Mendoza (Celeste's husband), is about love and family across borders.

"I think sometimes people think, 'Oh, it's bilingual theatre; it's all going to be very similar,'" says Celeste Mendoza. "But that's not true. The theatre aesthetic is very diverse also. That was very surprising to me, working on these plays and seeing how the individual aesthetics and expressions are very diverse."

While the plays share some common elements with the company's prior work, such as the bilingual scripts and themes such as family and faith that are familiar to audiences who have followed the company's work, the production is still a departure.

"Some people will enjoy these plays," Celeste Mendoza says. "Some others, I think it will take them a little while to hang on and really enjoy this work."

Says Reyes: "We want them to come and experience something that we probably won't do again. We have so many other plays that we want to do that are already written."

Voces de Vivo, Voces de la Cultura Latina runs Aug. 14-24, Thursday-Saturday, 8pm; Sunday, 3pm, at the Dougherty Arts Center Theatre, 1110 Barton Springs Rd. For more information, call 474-8497 or visit www.teatrovivo.org.

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Teatro Vivo, Voces de Vivo, Voces de la Cultura Latina, Rupert Reyes, Celeste Guzman Mendoza, Michael Mares Mendoza, Natalie Goodnow

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