Spanish‐speaking theatre in North America has existed as early as the late 1500s, predating the first English theatre companies in the East coast colonies. Modern‐day Mexico was particularly active in the theatre, and by the 1800s professional touring groups were performing... [more]
Spanish‐speaking theatre in North America has existed as early as the late 1500s, predating the first English theatre companies in the East coast colonies. Modern‐day Mexico was particularly active in the theatre, and by the 1800s professional touring groups were performing throughout the American Southwest. Later, Spanish‐language plays were common in American cities with large Hispanic populations, though these were often amateur community theatres that played in particular neighborhoods. The 1920s was a fertile time for Hispanic theatre in America, with both plays and musical revues (called zarzueles) gaining popularity in larger cities. But activity dwindled during the Depression and the war years. By the last decades of the 20th century, theatre companies were formed that were bilingual and started to reach wider audiences.
Many feel the new movement began with Luis Valdez and his El Teatro Campesino in 1965. Valdez is a playwright‐manager whose works, such as Zoot Suit (1978) and I Don't Have to Show You No Stinking Badges (1986), have found audiences outside the Hispanic community. By the 1970s Hispanic theatre in the United States was found in three forms: Chicano theatre, Cuban‐American theatre, and Puerto Rican theatre, often calledNuyorican. The first has produced political and social dramas by such playwrights as Valdez, Jorge Huerta, Milcha Sanchez‐Scott, and Estela Portillo and such companies as Teatro de la Gente, Teatro de la Esperanza, and others, organized under the National Aztlán Theatre. Cuban‐American theatre is largely found in Florida and maintains traditions and techniques from its island home, including the Cuban “blackface” farces.
Maria Irene Fornes is the most prominent playwright of this form of Hispanic theatre; other notable writers include Iván Acosta, Nilo Cruz, Manuel Martín, Mario Peña, Dolores Prida, and Omar Torres. As the name implies, Nuyorican refers to theatre about the Puerto Rican culture in New York City. The productions tend to be bilingual and are centered on neighborhoods, as seen in the work of the Puerto Rican Traveling Company. Miguel Piñero, whose powerful drama Short Eyes (1974) was a mainstream hit, was the most known Puerto Rican playwright, but others emerged from such groups as the Nuyorican Poets' Café: Juan Shamsul Alam, Edward Gallardo, Federico Fraguada, Richard Irizarry, Yvette Ramírez, and Candido Tirado. Hispanic theatre is not limited exclusively to these three categories; the Public Theatre, Repertorio Español, and other groups present a wide range of bilingual theatre. There are also noteworthy playwrights, such as Josefina López, Eduardo Machado, Carlos Morton, and José Rivera, who cannot be easily categorized. In truth, Hispanic‐American theatre is as diverse and complex as the many Spanish‐speaking groups in North America.