I am in México this time on the invitation of Aurora Cano, an actor, director and producer who leads a bi-annual festival called Drama Fest. Every two years, she invites artists from one other country to work with Mexican artists to create work and learn together, and to expose audiences to international audiences and exciting readings and productions. Her formula is unusual in México: she invites artists from another country to work in México City and the capital of another Mexican state. Two years ago, it was Germany and Pueblo; this time it is the U.S. and Jalisco. Cano was seeking playwrights, directors and workshop leaders, and ultimately created a fascinating program that included works and artists from México City, Jalisco and the U.S., including “Opus” by Michael Hollinger, “The Piano Teacher” by Julia Cho, “Yellow Face” by David Henry Hwang, and “Desaire de los elevadors” by Alberto Villarreal and directed by Tea Alegic.
During my two weeks in México, I am teaching two week-long workshops that focus on the creative process of playwrights, and I am having the opportunity to see some wonderful work, renew friendships, meet new people, and think more deeply about the intercultural work we do at the Lark. Although I’ve been to México City quite a few times in the last half dozen years two organize and implement the Lark’s growing international playwright exchange program, this is the first time I’ve traveled to another region and I am very excited about my visit to Guadalajara and getting a better sense of the country as a whole. Although we have set our programs up with institutions located in México City, which is a magnet for the arts in México, the Lark’s mission is very focused on democratizing and decentralizing our reach for new and unheard voices, and so I have relished the opportunity this month to spend two weeks—in two Mexican cities—working closely with theater artists to share skills and perspectives on playwriting and theater making.
Guadalajara is small compared to México City’s population of nearly 19,000,000, but it is the second-largest city in México. The city was founded in 1532 as part of a vicious campaign of conquest by Nuño de Guzmán (whose cruelty against native populations appalled even the Spanish authorities and he died in jail in Madrid) and it supported Hidalgo’s independence movement at the end of the 18 th century. Today, the state of Jalisco leads the nation in producing corn for tortillas, is the center of tequila production, and the home of the musical mariachis, the horsemen called charros, the hats called sombreros and, in fact, the Mexican Hat Dance itself. We drive past the factory where they produce the “cervesa mas fina”—Corona, of course, and we at first confused the smell of the brewery with melting chocolate—on our way to the workshop which takes place at the University of Guadalajara, the nation’s second largest. Interestingly, the day we arrived a coup took place at the university: the chancellor was forcibly removed and replaced by a new chancellor by a phalanx of faculty and students and there are demonstrations in the streets. Clearly academic politics exists everywhere.
My workshops have been wonderful, surprising, happy experiences. Although I put a great deal of thought into what I wanted to do in the workshops, and how they should be structured, there is nothing like intercultural exchange to encourage innovation. Every day was a new adventure, weaving together three strands: making work and sharing it, talking about work and the creative process, and sharing information about the difference, large and small, in the cultural contexts of México and the U.S. The diversity of the participants has been amazing! My groups have been comprised of the young, the old, the struggling, the jaded, the passionate, the experienced, and the neophyte. One man, who is not really connected to the cultural infrastructure of México at all, is an engineer who has run a theater for workers for nearly 30 years. He writes, directs and acts in plays for a passionate audience that he describes as “simple”—but the work he is creating—something like Dario Fo, but with a particular Mexican twist—is anything but simple, and it is very funny. Another writer, an actress, has created a work about a Mexican immigrant in Toronto and her ultimate collapse of identity—also very funny. And, naturally, there are much darker, Latin, stories about love and betrayal, and a real awareness of the power of actors to bring the written text to magical life. One thing these artists share in common with those in the U.S. is a need to connect with a community, and a need for answers about where they can go to make their work, finish it and see it produced. But they are making it happen. When I asked the group to tell me the aspect of the Mexican theater of which they were most proud, they all answered in unison that Mexican theater artists have the heart and the passion to succeed against nearly impossible odds.
John Clinton Eisner