Reflections on Coyuntura 2020: An International Latinx Theatre Gathering by María Escolán
PTC, in partnership with the GVPTA (Greater Vancouver Professional Theatre Association) asked María Escolán to reflect on her experience participating in Coyuntura 2020: An International Latinx Theatre Gathering. Coyuntura was sponsored by the Canadian Latinx Theatre Artist Coalition (CALTAC) and SFU Woodward’s Cultural Programs (SFUW). It was a gathering of theatre makers, administrators, and educators to celebrate, recognize, and envision the future of Latinx theatre practice in Canada. Workshops, facilitated discussions, and a free-form pitch session of Latinx works were interspersed with opportunities for Latinx theatre artists and their allies to meet, talk, and celebrate the launch of the Canadian Latinx Theatre Artist Coalition.
Organized by the Canadian Latinx Theatre Artist Coalition (CALTAC), Coyuntura took place from Feb 14-16, 2020 on the unceded Coast Salish territories of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh Nations in Vancouver. Coyuntura marked the launch of CALTAC and was also scheduled to coincide with the world premiere of Carmen Aguirre’s new play Anywhere But Here, marking the first time in Canadian theatre that an all-Latinx piece opened in a civic theatre mainstage. This was, in many ways, a coyuntura of coyunturas.
On the word Coyuntura: Carmen Aguirre shared in her keynote address that it is a word most often used in political discourse and that it means “to take into account the historical context of the current situation in order to decide where to go from here.”
Coyuntura/Conjuncture denotes a coming together at a crossroads with stakes where we, as theatre artists, must ask:
- What are we doing as theatre makers?
- Why do we tell stories?
- Who are they for?
- What are we trying to say?
- What are we trying to do?
These are some of the questions Carmen Aguirre posed in her keynote address. And as I participated in the dialogues that ensued at Coyuntura over the next couple of days, I had more questions:
- What are ways of working, of doing theatre here and now, that are not colonial?
- What does a land-based dramaturgy look like?
- How do we, in a theatre practice, relate to land? (the land we work on, the land we come from, unceded land, ancestral land, land of exile, land left behind)
- Are there certain ways of practicing rigour that are colonial?
Among the reflections and practices arising out of the dialogues at Coyuntura, there are several that stand out in relation to these questions. One practice might be to locate our theatre practices within the cosmologies that inform them: in one of the Coyuntura panels, Monique Mojica noted that working within a normalized and invisibilized colonial tradition can be crippling when attempting to work within Indigenous traditions. Mojica noted that the training in threes that informs a colonial theatre practice, for example – where events and/or characters in plays are grouped together in sets of threes – does not translate to the Guna cosmology that informs her theatre practice, which functions in twos and multiple of twos.
In her keynote address, Carmen Aguirre also offered her vision of a world with no borders, no nation states, no segregation, and no need for identity politics – a Commons.
Another practice might be to accompany land acknowledgments with concrete actions, as CALTAC did with Coyuntura: in response to the complicity in violence that being on unceded territories entails and that gathering in a Goldcorp funded institution also entails – granted the mining company’s human rights abuses against Indigenous environmental activists in Guatemala and its poisoning the water of the Lempa River, which in turn feeds El Salvador, where I am from – CALTAC donated 100 percent of its ticket sales to the Unist’ot’en Camp Legal Fund, which in this case amounted to over $3,000.
Another practice is to critically reflect on language usage. As noted during Coyuntura, the term Latinx, for example, is imbued with colonial histories and a North American perspective. The name Latin America is given to a large portion of this continent through the process of colonization and is therefore a colonial construct. As Coyuntura panelists Barbara Santos and Monique Mojica noted, Black and Indigenous identities located within the geography of Latin America are more strongly linked to their Blackness and Indigeneity over and above Latinx identifications – with Latinx often being a term that is less/not relevant. At the same time, it is also something to assert Latin American identities in our current political moment; as Evelina Fernandez noted in the panel on Latinidad, it becomes an act of resistance to assert a Latinx/Chicano/Mexican identity as hundreds of thousands of children and adult asylum seekers from Mexico and Central America are held in detention centres along North American borders.
In her keynote address, Carmen Aguirre also offered her vision of a world with no borders, no nation states, no segregation, and no need for identity politics – a Commons. (And not the Commons, Aguirre notes, that the Protestant Liberal mainstream translates into whiteness and colour blindness.) One way of practicing a Commons in the theatre right now, she offers, would be that the casting of all plays represent the demographics of the places they are being presented in. Among her closing remarks, she notes:
“Let’s aim for an ongoing practice of all of us playing all roles at all times. We’re far away from that, we’re far away from the Commons, but we are so much closer than we were. And that is thanks to all the work that has been done by the trailblazers whose shoulders we stand on.”
Photo: From the panel discussion What is Latinidad? featuring international superstars of the theatre: Juliette Carrillo, Barbara Chirinos, Barbara Santos, Lina de Guevara, Evelina Fernandez, and moderator Donna-Michelle St. Bernard. It was the first time these women gathered in Vancouver to talk.
About María Escolán
Born and raised in El Salvador, María Escolán is a theatre artist, performer, and director who also calls Vancouver home. She holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Race, Gender, Sexuality, and Social Justice from the University of British Columbia and is currently completing a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree in Theatre Performance at the School for Contemporary Arts, Simon Fraser University. Recent performance credits include rEvolver Festival’s Geologic Formations (2018), PuSh Festival’s Corazón del Espantapájaros (2019), and directing The Wild Inside by Cusi Cram as part of SFU’s annual Directing Projects.