Latino-American Experience at Heart of Theater Festival

By Madeline Orton
NJ Today

What does it mean to be Latino in America? That is the theme Red Bank’s Two River Theater Company explored through four new plays in its third annual Crossing Borders Festival.

“The Latino experience is really shifting in the U.S. and really the whole composition of the U.S. as a country is changing,” said Jerry Ruiz, curator of the Crossing Borders Festival. “We’re moving to a more and more diverse sense of what it means to be American.”

The four-day festival includes staged readings of new plays by Latino and Latino-American playwrights and a kickoff party — all free and open to the public.

“When I came here just three years ago, one of the first things I noticed was this very vital and lively Latino population,” said Two River Theater Company Artistic Director John Dias. “We as a theater, partly because we depend on it, we want everybody in our community to feel invited to this place.”

One way the theater hopes to welcome members of the Latino community through the festival is by diminishing the possible language barrier.

“One of the plays that we read in the festival, that we read in English, we also translate into Spanish,” explained Dias.

For playwrights like Andrea Thome, staged readings like these offer the chance to hear their scripts read aloud, get a sense of audience reactions and often have their work considered for full-scale productions. Thome’s piece, Pinkolandia, was featured in the 2012 Crossing Borders Festival and has gone on to be included in Two River Theater Company’s upcoming season.

“It’s really a wonderful opportunity to get to hear your work in a new environment,” said Thome. “You know, each time you hear a play out loud, it teaches you more about the play.”

Thome’s interest in the success of these readings extends beyond her own work. Broadening the presence of Latino voices in the American theatrical cannon is a priority she and the theater share, as is sparking conversation.

“Maybe that’s why I’m in theater,” Thome said. “I believe storytelling is actually a way to have deep conversations. [It] can provide a space for that dialogue that we don’t always dare to have in other situations.”

The Crossing Borders Festival provides a platform for Latino artists to tell these stories; stories that are -– increasingly so — American. Thome’s Pinkolandia comes to Two River Theater Company this February.

Major funding for NJ Arts is provided by The Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation and the F.M. Kirby Foundation.