Thursday, November 5, 2009

November 2009 – Henry Godinez


This year, we’re focusing in depth on what Lark community members have to say about where we’re headed as a society and the tools we’ll need to get there. Every month we are inviting a guest essayist—theater artists as well as people from fields outside theater—to share a unique perspective on some important strategic questions we’ve been asking ourselves lately about the purpose of live theater in the twenty-first century, what the field has to offer society as a whole, and what we can learn about how to shape the theater of the future.

This month's guest essayist is Henry Godinez, the resident artistic associate at the Goodman Theatre and the director of the Goodman's Latino Theater Festival.
He recently joined the advisory council for our U.S.-Mexico Word Exchange program. He and his colleagues at the Goodman have committed themselves to connecting important Mexican voices, translated into English at the Lark through a unique collaborative process, with the Chicago public through workshops and productions in the summer of 2010. In this essay, he discusses both his passion for cultural exchange as well as his dedication to moving the work along to the next stage of its journey. As the date draws near for the U.S.-Mexico Word Exchange to begin, we’re hoping to provoke conversations about partnerships—like the one Henry and the Goodman have initiated with us— that will advance new work to public awareness.We look forward to reading your responses to Henry–and to one another—and we hope you’ll join us November 21-23 to see the outcome of this year’s exchange!



By Henry Godinez

A couple of years ago I was blown away by a hauntingly beautiful new play called Our Dad Is In Atlantis, a modest play that manages to conjure up a kind of mystery and magic I associate with that legendary underwater country yet set within the context of a brutal reality facing thousands and thousands of people every day—not in some hidden corner of the deep blue sea but in the parched deserts of our own continent. I was deeply moved by its stark intimacy, by its heartbreaking humanity. Today I still cannot even speak of this play without experiencing a very real emotional kinesthetic response. Our Dad spoke to the experience of undocumented people willing to risk everything to improve the lives of their loved ones, human beings, actually young brothers in this case, who suffer unimaginable hardships in the struggle to maintain the most fundamental of human truths and rights, a family. Sadly, through the ignorant efforts of pundits like Lou Dobbs and organizations like the Minutemen, the general public in our country has become desensitized at best, hostile and racist at worst, to the rights even of children. When I read Our Dad, it humanized the nameless, faceless people we know die in our deserts every day and that yet our society often manages to vilify or ignore. That unassuming little play felt so immediate, so vital and so urgent, that I knew it must have come from a different perspective, and indeed it did.

Upon discovering the play’s origins in this country—the Lark Play Development Center’s U.S.-Mexico “Word Exchange”—I was captivated by the idea of how this program identifies some of the most gifted young artists in Mexico today, largely unknown in the U.S., and brings them together with bilingual artists in New York City during an annual residency focused on developing stage-worthy translations and lasting interpersonal relationships. Under (Our Dad is in Atlantis at the Theatres at
45 Bleecker, a co-production with Queens
Theatre in the Park. Photo by Carel DiGrappa

the direction of Lark playwright Andrea Thome, this program, has created a groundswell of activity that is propelling Mexican voices into the U.S. theater scene and, reciprocally, opening up opportunities in Mexico for a broad range of writers from the U.S. I have become a member of the program’s advisory council and am excited to join the company that will assemble in New York in November.

To me there is nothing more important in the theater than telling human stories: stories that have the potential to change the way people view the world in which they live. A great deal of the work that I do is based on the conviction that we as humans share far more similarities than differences; to me that is the future and to me that generally demands some perspective. There is something especially poignant about the plight of those two young boys in Our Dad when you consider that the story is being told from the perspective of the Mexican experience. These are not only voices we haven’t heard, they are voices we haven’t heard from that side of the border. The future demands more than simply our projection of what the rest of the world is thinking and feeling. That nearsightedness was typical of the way our nation viewed the world for the first eight years of the twenty first century. It seems to me that the more direct communication we have with the world in which we live the less potential for misconceptions, prejudice and fear.
As part of the artistic collective at Goodman Theatre in Chicago, I have the privilege of championing underrepresented stories of the Latino experience, generally told by the wealth of exceptional Latino writers that we have in the U.S. Now what the Lark exchange has done is broadening the chorus of voices by creating opportunities for collaboration, connecting exciting Mexican writers like Javier Malpica with talented Latino writers like Jorge Ignacio Cortinas, and the reward is a gem like Our Dad is in Atlantis. Coming from a Cuban immigrant family of ten children it’s probably no wonder that I am drawn to collaboration; it was nothing short of a survival skill for me, but it’s also what I love about the theater. So when the possibility arose of extending the output of the Lark’s exchange program into the context of the Goodman’s biennial Latino Theatre Festival, it seemed a natural and undeniable opportunity, a way to help great stories survive. The intentions and potential rewards are twofold because even as we showcase voices mostly unheard in this country we are simultaneously inviting new audiences into our theaters to hear them. What’s wonderful is that these new audiences come to hear their own stories told in one of the great cultural institutions of Chicago, along with traditional Goodman audiences that come to hear stories other than their own that impact their lives, and they experience those stories together as that unique community we call audience.

Still, the real value lies in furthering the developmental work of the writer—which takes place at the Lark hand in hand with the translation process, and with unflinching, fierce commitment. In this period of economic downturn, it is the development of new work that suffers most, let alone non-mainstream work, because we are a society of consumers and we want product not process. It is precisely at these times that it’s most important to not withdraw to safe and recognizable corners of our existence. Audiences are changing and if we are to keep the theater vital and immediate, the stories we tell must be inclusive. All of us at Goodman are so excited to help move these important, newly-translated works forward through a series of readings and conversations that we will offer during the Latino Theatre Festival this coming summer. It is especially fitting to be initiating this collaboration this summer because 2010 celebrates the bicentennial of Mexican independence and the centennial of the Mexican Revolution—both events that strove to address challenges of the present for the benefit of the future of those that were historically marginalized. A revolutionary idea like the U.S.-Mexico Word Exchange merits a presence in just such a celebration because perhaps through collaborations with organizations that share common goals, like ours, we too can begin to confront the challenges we face today by helping to insure that more unassuming but urgent plays like Our Dad have an opportunity to benefit our future. Perhaps in this way we can begin to create a future were we celebrate our similarities instead of capitalizing on our differences to promote fear, misunderstandings and prejudice. That’s the kind of revolution I’m interested in waging.
About Henry Godinez:
He has directed numerous productions at the Goodman Theatre, Signature Theatre, Portland Center Stage, Kansas City Rep, Chicago Shakespeare, Victory Gardens Theatre, and Apple Tree Theatre. He is co-founder and former Artistic Director of Teatro Vista, an Associate Professor at Northwestern University, and has served as a site evaluator and panelist for the National Endowment for the Arts and the Illinois Arts Council. He is the recipient of the 1999 TCG Alan Schneider Directing Award and the Distinguished Service Award from the Lawyers for the Creative Arts. Born in Havana, Cuba, Henry has a profound interest in plays about the immigrant condition and that express the experiences of marginalized communities in America, including Latino voices, and has directed significant productions of plays by such notables as Luis Alfaro, Eduardo Machado, José Rivera, Regina Taylor, Luis Valdez and Karen Zacarías.