New theater company explores Latin American culture

by Annie Huang / Beacon Staff • January 13, 2016

Junior Pablo Vaca helped direct Antigona.
Junior Pablo Vaca helped direct Antigona.

In 2014, Amnesty International USA recorded and investigated human rights abuses in 160 countries and territories worldwide.Faculty member Christina Marín, who teaches courses like Theatre of the Oppressed and Human Rights in Theatre, wanted to direct a play that educates people about human rights violations in Latin America.

“It’s something I think the people in the U.S. do not necessarily know about,” Marín said.

Raíz Latinoamericana, a newly formed theater company Marín founded at Emerson, is committed to sharing Latin American and Latino history and culture through art, according to Marín. The group, which translates to “Latin American Root,” debuted its inaugural production last month on Dec. 10—otherwise known as Human Rights Day. The play, titled Antígona: Las Voces Que Incendian el Desierto, or The Voices that Set the Desert on Fire in English, is an adaptation of the Greek tragedy Antigone, set in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico.

“Emerson is interested right now in embracing cultural competency, and that comes with respecting all of the constituents in terms of staff, faculty, and student body,” Marín said. “[Raíz] helps Emerson to embrace different expressions of culture through art.”

The idea for the theater troupe came from Marín and Pablo Vaca, a junior visual and media arts major, who were both interested in directing theater in Spanish. They pitched the group to Amigos, an organization dedicated to creating awareness of the Latino community at Emerson. Sophomore visual and media arts major Juan Coral, who works on the group’s marketing team, took interest in the troupe and helped to make the organization and its first performance a reality. Coral, who was born in Ecuador, produced and acted in the play. 

“When I first heard about the idea, I knew it was something important that I had to do,” Coral said. “However, even at our first meeting, I never thought that we would get to this point because I didn’t think that we would get enough support.”

In less than a month, Raíz raised $1,686 from its GoFundMe campaign and over $800 from the Emerson community for Antígona, according to Marín. Raíz’s production of Perla de la Rosa’s play was a multimedia performance focusing on “the lives of hundreds of women cut down by an oppressive, patriarchal society, and the hundreds more who continue to struggle against impunity and injustice,” according to the campaign page. 

Marín said she showed documentaries in relation to human rights issues presented in Antígona, a complex production which brought her challenges as the director.

“I had to make sure the students who contributed understood the human rights violations and situation that were being reflected in the play,” Marín said.

With the help of the Urbano Project, an organization working to ignite social change through art and performance, Raíz rented out their Jamaica Plain exhibit space for the production of Antígona. Despite the limited time and space, the cast of 14 performed for an audience of over 50 for three consecutive nights, according to Marín. 

“I was so impressed by the outcome of the play, and especially how dedicated the cast was throughout the entire process,” Coral said.

Coral said Antígona will come to the Little Building’s Cabaret next month, and that the organization wants to bring the play to various spaces for performance. He also said Raíz will continue to focus on productions in Spanish, especially those that tell Latin American stories.

“We are a great culture,” Coral said, “but there are so many misconceptions about [us]. For example, people often ask me if we have cars or lived in trees in Latin America. [Raíz] is a good place for people to learn about our culture, how to speak Spanish, and explore new things.”

Coral said the organization is planning on eventually branching out into other art forms, like film, music, and dance. In the meantime, their current priority is to apply for recognition by the Student Government Association. The group is also assembling an executive board, since Marín will be handing her directing position over to student members, and Coral will be studying in Valencia, Spain, this spring. 

“The idea is [for Raíz] to be a student group and for students to direct productions,” Marín said. “I only took the [directing] role to get [‘Antígona’] up and off the ground, but I will continue to be involved for as long as I can.”

Although only Spanish-speaking students can perform, anyone can join the organization to work as crew members or hold supporting positions. So far, members participating in Raíz include native Latin Americans and those whose families are from the region.

“As Latinos, we’re here and we’re present,” Marín said. “Our cultures are very important to us, and we like to share them.”