Hispanic Heritage month is unofficially extended at the Gunston Arts Center, where Teatro de la Luna hosts a six-week international theater festival featuring eight plays from companies representing seven Hispanic countries. A different play is performed each consecutive weekend – with performances on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings – from October 7 through November 15,
Teatro de la Luna performs Spanish-language plays and runs bilingual theater workshops for children and adults from their Washington D.C. offices year-round. But the festival, which is in its eleventh year, is their signature event.
Teatro de la Luna is run by Mario Marcel and Nuckie Walder along with a small staff of actors and assistants. Marcel and Walder immigrated to the United States from Paraguay with their young daughter in 1983. Marcel got his start in the D.C. area at Gala Hispanic Theater, working as an actor. He founded Teatro de la Luna seven years later in 1990.
Marcel, who now serves as the theater’s Director, decided to begin the annual festival more than a decade ago to bring the many Hispanic residents of the D.C. metro area a "little piece" of their own countries.
"People from so many different Hispanic countries live in this area," said Marcel, speaking in Spanish.
"With the festival, I am trying to bring the artist to his people, and vice versa," he explained. "Theater brings a culture to life – its traditions, its family dynamics. It’s important to show people who we are, where we come from and where we are going, so that we don’t lose our culture ourselves."
Nucki Walder, who was trained as an architect in Paraguay, now serves as the theater’s Producer. She reiterated the importance of the work Teatro de la Luna does connecting local audience members with their own cultures through theater.
"The festival offers a way to bring a bit of our countries here," said Walder. "That’s why we tried to choose plays that are representative of the country [the company hails from]."
Equally important to Walder, however, is the quality of the actors and the performances brought from abroad for the festival. Although most of the actors performing in the festival are not well-known here, many are respected and popular performers in their countries.
THE EIGHT PIECES that make up this year’s festival were chosen from among 60 theatrical works that were submitted to Teatro de la Luna’s website over the course of the past year.
The works chosen cover every style and subject matter. They include a one-man show from famed Uruguayan comedic actor Petru Valenski; a drama about pedophilia in a Venezuelan Catholic primary school; and a production of The Amazing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe from Paraguay for younger audiences.
Maria Isabel Bosch, from the Dominican Republic, adapted, directed and performs "I Come From Here," an homage to the stories her grandfather and former Dominican President Juan Bosch wrote.
The Argentinean selection, titled "Meat Prices Rising," is a highly-acclaimed satirical comedy that pokes fun at all aspects of Argentine culture.
"We chose pieces that would entertain audiences, but also make them question and think about what they saw," said Walder.
In addition to selecting the plays, Teatro de la Luna’s festival staff of three full-time employees spend about half of the year getting geared up for the plays.
They arrange flights and accommodations for the companies, which generally stay for the full week during which their performances run. The sets for the plays are also, for the most part, provided by Teatro de la Luna, as most companies cannot bring large props or structures overseas.
Most of the companies that travel to the festival also do not bring a full technical staff. Peter Pereyra, who is also from Paraguay and acts in many of Teatro de la Luna’s plays, serves as temporary stage manager for each of the festival’s productions, running the lights and sound during the performances and helping construct the shows’ sets. This is the seventh year that the young actor will play this role in the festival.
For Pereyra, the experience, however hectic or stressful, is worth it.
"As an actor, the best part of the festival is the opportunity to see people of such distinct points of view who are all dedicated to theater," said Pereyra. "It’s a very unique showcase. The festival includes a bit of everything."
Though this year’s theater festival does not have a theme, past years’ events have. In 2003, the festival featured only theatrical works created by Hispanic artists in exile. According to Walder, that year’s performances provided the festival a different flavor. They were more political she said, and, perhaps, more relatable to audience members, many of whom have also left their home countries.
Though most of the audience members the festival draws are Spanish-speaking (as with all of Teatro de la Luna’s performances) everyone is welcome. Headsets for simultaneous dubbing in English are available for all performances upon request.
So, whether you speak Spanish fluently, understand a few words or none at all, you can still enjoy theater from all reaches of the Western Hemisphere this season at Gunston Arts Center.