Arts & Entertainment, Features

Latinx theater collective calls to be seen

As more theaters and playwrights across the country have begun to acknowledge racism in the arts, pushes for diverse casting have seen growing support within over the past few years. But many people who work behind the scenes do not see the same level of opportunity, and one Facebook group wants to be part of the solution.

La Gente, a virtual networking group created by Depaul University professor Regina Garcia, aims to feature and connect Latinx tech and production workers. ILLUSTRATION BY LAURYN ALLEN/ DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

Regina Garcia, a scenic designer from Puerto Rico and professor at DePaul University, started the Facebook group La Gente: The Latinx Theatre Design Network in 2016. The goal of the group is to spotlight Latinx technology and production workers and help them build a community.

Jorge Arroyo, an assistant professor of lighting design in Boston University’s College of Fine Arts, has been a member of the Facebook group for the past few years. The social media page was always slightly active, but Arroyo said the current social justice movement invigorated the group.

“After all of the unfortunate events revolving around George Floyd and police brutality against our Black friends, it really brought a lot of things together for us,” Arroyo said. “Since Zoom is now around and everybody knows how to use it, it was quite easy to connect with people all across the country that, before, would have been very difficult to do.”

Carolina Ortiz Herrera is a lighting designer who recently graduated with a Masters of Fine Arts from the Yale School of Drama. She joined the Facebook group when it launched in 2016, and is now one of the members who is helping lead the committee that is planning the website.

Herrera is a self-described “early-career designer” in a field she said is dominated by older white men. She said La Gente helps her and other young designers benefit the theater of now and will also help future generations of design and production professionals.

“We need to start getting into the younger generations to make sure that they can see themselves represented in something that perhaps they didn’t think was a career or that they can make a living off it,” Herrera said. “But if they see more of us, if they can find us, if we can connect with those young people, then that’s how the community of Latinx artists are going to become a bigger community in the theatre.”

La Gente is still growing in size, and there are not just up-and-coming professionals in the group, but industry veterans as well.

One of its members, Alejo Vietti, is an Argentinian costume designer who has dressed actors in “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” for six years on Broadway. Vietti said he is excited about the future of La Gente.

“I always want to be connected and to collaborate with other Latinx artists in this date,” Vietti said. “Unfortunately, I didn’t have the chance to do that a lot until I found this community that was started as a Facebook group and became now La Gente.”

Vietti said when “Beautiful” opened, he was the only Latinx designer in any production on Broadway. Now that he has such a strong network of designers around him, he said, he hopes to use his status to get hired more often and be seen by larger New York theater companies.

“Next week, I have a meeting with a general manager from a very important theater company in New York,” Vietti said, “and I’m planning on telling her about La Gente.”

La Gente’s name reflects how the group operates — “gente” is the Spanish word for people, which Arroyo said means that no one person is in charge, that it’s more so a team effort.

“We are a collective. We are a network,” Arroyo said. “We’re not an organization that works top to bottom. There isn’t a leader.”

Arroyo said representation is the main goal for La Gente: simply being seen and being part of the conversation makes all the difference.

“Listen,” Arroyo said. “Latinx, BIPOC, Black, all sorts, we’re here, we’re incredibly talented, and this is how you find us.”

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