"INTAR has always been a place for emerging Latino writers," says the company's new producing artistic director Michael John Garcés, who shares the title with INTAR's founder, Max Ferrá. INTAR stands for International Arts Relations and was established in 1966 to provide greater opportunities for Hispanic-American theater and visual artists.
The company is currently presenting Ties That Bind: Three Plays in Repertory. "We've done a three-play rep series on and off for about six seasons, usually around some theme," explains Garcés. "It helps us to maximize how many playwrights we can present on our stage and to give more actors jobs." This year's theme is the nature of love and defining identity within Latino culture, and within the family.
Garcés is directing the first of these plays, Young Valiant, by Oliver Mayer (who received critical acclaim when his Blade to the Heat was mounted by the Public Theater in 1994). Young Valiant is a coming of age story in which a boy's awakening machismo causes a disruption in his parents' loving relationship. "All the characters are hitting crucial crossroad points in life where they're trying to figure out who they are and what this family means," says Garcés. "It's a really simple story, but Oliver's writing is extremely muscular and vital."
The second of the three plays is Cuchifrito by Eduardo Andino; the title references the greasy, fried food popular in Latino culture. Andino settled on the title after reading a Village Voice writer's critique of another Latino playwright. "The critic said that this playwright thought he was writing elevated drama but, in essence, he was writing a piece of cuchifrito theater, which he said was the equivalent of Chitlin circuit work," says Andino. "When I read that, I thought, 'That's my title!' It's not that I aspire to do cuchifrito theater, but I guess I owe it enough that I can tip my hat and flip the bird at it at once." The play is set in Williamsburg, and revolves around the family of a Puerto Rican boy suffering from acute encephalitis.
The final play in Ties That Bind is Ricardo A. Bracho's A to B, directed by Ela Troyano; Garcés describes it as being "about a young straight man and a young gay man that fall in love." Troyano, best known for her film work (including the campy 1997 film, Latin Boys Go to Hell), incorporates a multimedia component to explore life, love, and loss in San Francisco's Mission District. "Ricardo's world and his depiction of male gender is intriguing to me," says Troyano. "It's very erotic but it's also very articulate and savvy."
The focus on ethnic-specific work within the theater community has changed significantly since INTAR's inception. Derogatory and stereotypical portrayals of non-whites prompted a number of different groups to start up their own companies; however, increased mainstream attention towards multiculturalism in recent years has forced these companies to reevaluate their goals. "I think the danger with a lot of institutions is that they feel they answered the question 15 years ago, but that answer is no longer valid," says Garcés. He acknowledges that, although a lot of headway has been made, there remains a long way to go for Latino playwrights. According to Andino, one challenge is the difficulty that these artists face due to being pigeon-holed as "ethnic"; he feels that "people are going to read John Smith one way, and Eduardo Andino another. It's kind of hard to escape it."
Of course, the label "Latino" does not completely define the works of any of these artists. Garcés has directed a number of productions outside of INTAR, including the world premiere of Kia Corthron's Force Continuum for the Atlantic Theater Company last year. Andino is currently serving as the artistic director of the theater component of Working Classroom, a multi-ethnic arts community in New Mexico; their latest project was a series of vignettes on domestic violence entitled In the Absence of Bread, Crack 'Er. Troyano has been involved in a number of different artistic scenes: She got her start as an apprentice to legendary gay performance artist Jack Smith, has created avant-garde live film performance with John Zorn, and documented the early work of the WOW Café.
"I want to emphasize that INTAR promotes new American plays," says Garcés. "Latino playwrights more and more are speaking less for a 'specialized' audience or experience. They are part of the dialogue that's happening among theater artists of all ethnicities about what it means to be American."