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Music, Arts & Culture

Latinx Playwrights Celebrate Culture, Discuss Challenges At Ashland Forum

April Ehrlich | JPR News
From left, Tiffany Ana López guides a discussion about Latinx culture and theater with playwrights Karen Zacarías, Richard Montoya, Mildred Ruiz-Sapp, Octavio Solis, and Luis Alfaro. ";

Latino playwrights from across the country met in Ashland Sunday morning to discuss the deeper meanings behind their plays, where they draw inspiration, and the challenges they face when expressing their cultures onstage.

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s Latinx Play Project brought five migrant panelists to the table: Luis Alfaro, Richard Montoya, Mildred Ruiz-Sapp, Octavio Solis, and Karen Zacarías.

The speakers touched on topics that were close to their hearts, like what the word “home” means to them, or challenges they faced growing up.

Born in Mexico, Zacarías said she turned to writing narratives and stories when she was a child and enduring bullying at school.

“Playwriting became a tool for me to navigate this new country,” Zacarías said. “My family was so small, we had nobody else, so I started talking to these characters that I was inventing.”

Nearly two hours into the discussion, attendee Lina Hernandez raised her hand and addressed the elephant in the room.

“Who is this art actually for at the end of the day?” Hernandez asked. “We’re writing as Chicanos and Latinos and we’re doing all this work and we’re kind of eviscerating ourselves onstage for audiences that don’t pick up the nuances.”

Hernandez said she felt like theater was mostly geared toward people who are white and who know little about Latinx cultures.

“I know that the art is speaking to me, and I know that part of it is for me,” Hernandez added. “But it's also trying to placate white sensibilities because it's a majority white audience.”

Ashland playwright Octavio Solis addressed her question: “You can’t not talk to that audience. You have to invite them around the table so that they could have their teaching moment as well.”

The discussion was part of OSF’s weekend of events celebrating Latino artists and their work.