Why unofficial? Because I think there will be more blog posts to come. I imagine those blog posts will muse critically about the gathering and the future of the community of Bay Area Latino theatre artists. This is just my own personal account of my experience.
First, a bit of background.
This is not the first potluck.
There was a smaller potluck with about 10 people invited, eight attended. Almost all of them were actors I know. We gathered in the living room of the flat Hugo Carbajal and Marilet Martinez share for a potluck dinner. I invited them to gather together because over the course of many months I had heard more than one actor I know/love/want to work with tell me that they were considering quitting the Bay Area. That they were considering moving to a city like Los Angeles or Chicago because getting work here in the Bay Area--getting cast in plays--was something they wanted to do full time, but the reality was they were having a hard time getting work.
These are talented actors. I know. I've worked with them, seen them perform. Yet despite their talent they are often only called in (by some theatres) for Latino roles. Meaning, they are not often considered for roles outside their ethnic identity. And if theatres only do a "Latino play" once every few years then the opportunity for work are scant.
By the way, I put "Latino play" in quotes because what does that mean, any way? That's a whole other blog post about categories and their confines and who's doing the defining.
Anyway, back to the first potluck. I actually had a bit of an idea I wanted to pitch to the artists. A way of working together. But I quickly scrapped my idea as we went around the room to articulate what it is we want from our theatre community. It became very apparent that the majority wanted most to know who was in their community.
So we ended that first potluck with action item: start a Facebook group. Invite all the Latino theatre artists in the Bay Area we know and tell them to do the same.
So we did.
We created the Bay Area Latino Theatre Artists Facebook group. It's a group specifically for Latino theatre artists who live in the Bay Area. That's it. To join there's really only three criteria: 1) You identify as Latino, 2) you are a theatre artist and 3) you live in the Bay Area.
As the group began to grow, then came our second action item: throw another potluck--a gathering for the entire group and repeat that conversation: what do people want and need.
So we did.
Monday I left work with a huge bag full of plates, cups and dinnerware. I didn't prepare any food for the potluck (sorry, but the back was acting up--you'd be amazed how it affects your life when bending over is accompanied by pain). I figured I'd bring supplies so we wouldn't have to use anything at the SF Mime Troupe's space--they were good enough to host, but I wanted to keep their expense at a minimum. P.S. A big thank you to Lisa Hori-Garcia, Mime Troupe collective member, who gave us the space to meet.
I took the BART and walked down 22nd street looking for a small market I had spotted via Google Map (insert your conflicted feelings about privacy here) so I could pick up something to drink. I made it the front door of the Mime Troupe's space just as Marilet was arriving.
Marilet, Lisa and I had discussed earlier how to try and moderate/facilitate the conversation, so we were there early to prep the space. Side note: Both Marilet and I participate in the Yeah, I Said Feminist Theatre Salon that has just celebrated its first year in the Bay Area. We decided to borrow some of their best practices for conversation. In fact, we intend to borrow all the awesome ideas that come out of that group.
Potluck attendees trickled in a bit at first, but by the time the conversation started going there were 20 plus people in the room--not too shabby for a first-time gathering. There were actors, directors, designers, producers, educators, writers, playwrights and poets. I knew about a third of the people in the room, everyone else was a new connection.
We went around the room introducing ourselves. Using the same prompt, discussed what we'd like to get out of our theatre community that we aren't currently getting.
I took notes. Oh did I take notes. I wanted to document all the aspirations so that we could identify the most common ones so that we can then do something about those needs.
And I listened.
I listened as people shared that they didn't know where they fit in. That they had been told they weren't "Latino enough" or didn't feel they could call themselves Latino or couldn't get cast as a Latino because they were told they didn't look Latino.
I heard people wanting to work, but struggling against categories that others were imposing on them. I heard people remembering that 20 plus years ago Latino theatre artists were gathering like this to address issues like the same ones we're facing...that nothing had changed, but that tonight's meeting had a different energy--it was fun, charged.
I learned that there is a lot our past can teach us. We don't have to reinvent the wheel. We can take the best ideas from our past, from our peers and identify how to achieve a sustainable longevity that keeps Latino theatre artists in community moving forward.
The last twenty minutes was a sort of free for all. Eating, laughing, talking one-on-one. It was exciting. Loud. And everyone I spoke with told me more with their eyes than anything else. I saw the enthusiasm. I saw the wheels in their minds turning. Turning at the possibility, the endless possibility of what a group of dedicated individuals can achieve.
We're doing this again.
Most likely the format will be more focused so that our next potluck is about talking, but also about doing.