Everyone agrees that boosting Latino representation in the theater world, both on the production and audience sides, is a good thing. Unfortunately, there isn't much consensus on the best way to do it.
Developments out of New York City point to an intriguing model that not only aims to "deepen the bench" of Latino theater makers, but has also attracted the financial backing of high-profile institutional and private donors.
The model comes to us from the Sol Project, a six-year, $3.8 million initiative whose goal, according to a recent piece in the New York Times, is to "usher Latino artists into the mainstream of American theater."
Of course, many funders want to bring under-represented demographics into the theater fold. The Lilly Awards Foundation and the Jenna and Paul Segal Foundation aim to address the theater world's alarming gender imbalance. The Joyce Foundation takes a similar approach, with a recent focus on female African-American playwrights. And the Theatre Communications Group's Blue Star Theatre program hones in on military families.
Each of these funders supports the various tools in the figurative theater development toolkit: residencies, guaranteed productions, generous checks, etc. The Sol Project's approach can be best described as a holistic amalgamation of some of these tools with the project itself unquestionably calling the shots.
The project's initial 12 productions will be staged by Off Broadway companies that must abide by certain conditions. They must hire a production team composed of minority artists to the greatest possible extent, commission a script by a Latino playwright (for which the Sol Project pays $15,000), and agree to meet with a Sol Project-recruited artist it doesn’t already know.
These performances will then be followed by two regional theater productions, ensuring the work escapes the confines of New York.
It’s an "extremely smart way of thinking" about boosting Latino representation in the theater world, according to Oskar Eustis, the artistic director of New York's Public Theater, who plans to stage a play with the Sol Project in the 2017-2018 season.
Deep-pocketed donors agree with his assessment. The project has received funding commitments from American Express and two of the theater world's most formidable players: Howard Gilman Foundation and the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, whose mission is nothing short of "revolutionizing theater" by, among other things, identifying and sharing best-in-class audience engagement models to expand audiences.
Indeed, the Sol Project has found a kindred spirit in Duke because, if we're to believe Lou Moreno, the artistic director of New York City troupe Intar, audience development is one area that will need strengthening if Latino playwrights are to have a sustained presence in the mainstream. (In a related analysis, check out our take on DeVos Institute of Arts Management's study examining the challenges facing African American and Latino arts organizations.)
Then there's another donor who has first-hand experience in engaging audiences: Lin-Manuel Miranda, the creator of Hamilton, who matched a $25,000 grant from the Time Warner Foundation to jump-start the initiative.
That pretty much tells you all you need to know, don't you think?