Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Nuyorican Theatre Blues


Lack of theatre venues in El Barrio limit Nuyorican playwrights
By Eugene Rodriguez

A few months ago, I finally became a published and produced Puerto Rican playwright. This came after many years of rejections and of completely and deliberately being ignored! And that, my friend, gives me the Blues!

I was lucky enough to find an Internet company interested in publishing my work. After jumping through many hoops, I now have a book to sell. Called “A Mambo Duet,” it contains two of my musical plays that were produced to critical acclaim in Off Broadway theatres, “Mambo Louie & The Dancing Machine,” (The first Mambo musical produced in an Off-Broadway Theatre) and “The Mambo Café,” (a delightful bar play). And, I am willing to bet that you have not even heard of either play. And, that gives me the Blues!

As a respected Nuyorican playwright, I have been called to judge playwriting contests. Here’s how they go: Usually, they use five or six judges. Each of us gets 10- 12 plays to critique a year. I get six plays that are bad works, three that are fine stage plays, and three extraordinary works of art. In the end, only one play is produced. The others might never go beyond this stage. And, that gives me the Blues!

For a Nuyorican playwright to be produced in the theater capital of the world is an uphill battle.

What annoys me is that three of New York City’s finest theatres that are located in El Barrio are underutilized. Even though East Harlem is home to one of, if not the largest Nuyorican communities in the world, arrogant city policies remain inaccessible to Nuyorican theatre artists. Producers who can afford to pay the rent for our theatres don’t want to produce in them, and the Nuyorican artists, who want to produce in our theatres, simply cannot afford to rent them. Therefore, I, like many Nuyorican playwrights, have no theatre to showcase my work. And, that gives me the Blues!

The three underutilized theatres represent a tremendous community asset that should be used to fuel a cultural renaissance in El Barrio, which I call ELBA. Programming these Nuyorican theatres with Nuyorican plays in the Nuyorican cultural capitol of the world is not only good cultural sense. It also makes good business.

Theatre is known to pump money into the local economy. That’s why the city did everything it could to support Broadway after 9/11. So, if a theatre company could produce a show in a local theatre, it, in essence, would provide a public service to the local business community and to the overall city economy.

Because of outdated, intolerant policies, which insist that these theatres must make a profit for the city, the three ELBA theatres remain dark. That leaves ELBA without the economic boost and Nuyorican artists without local theatres to showcase their work.

Meanwhile, I stand on the unemployment line! And that my friend, if you’re any kind of Nuyorican, should give you the Blues!
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