On Fourth Street, classic meets contemporary
Fifteen seasons strong, TCs future is 416 year-old play
By Bonnie Rosenstock
Teatro Círculo has been on the go ever since it was born fifteen years ago as a traveling company. It was the brainchild of a group of CUNY graduate students of Spanish literature, who mounted their first production (based on three interludes by Cervantes), as a homage to one of their retiring professors a Cervantes specialist. As a result of the shows success, they were asked to tour it around to the other CUNY colleges.
We had ten to twelve gigs based on that night, recalls TCs artistic director José Cheo Oliveras. We realized that as artists, we needed to do it. It was related to Spanish classical theater. We had all trained with Dean Zayas, the head of the Theater Department at the University of Puerto Rico, and wanted to continue that in New York.
To celebrate their fifteenth anniversary season which coincides with the 400th anniversary of Lope de Vegas seminal 1609 Arte Nuevo de Hacer Comedias Zayas and Oliveras have selected his picaresque 1593 El Caballero del Milagro (aka, El Arrogante Español) to present for three weeks, Wednesday to Sunday, October 28 to November 15. There will be supertitles in English for non Spanish-speakers.
Zayas, a specialist in the Spanish Golden Age (ca.1492-1681), has come from Puerto Rico to direct; and Gloria Zayas, costume teacher at the university and the top designer on the island, has agreed to do the costumes. We decided to go back to our roots, back to the people who inspired us, says Oliveras.
At least five or six generations of acting students here in New York have been taught by Zayas, declared Oliveras, 45; born in Santurce, raised in Carolina (the birthplace of salsa) and a 1987 graduate of the University of Puerto Rico. He also credits Zayas with having a tremendous impact on the revival of the classics. He continued doing this when no one else was putting energy into it. The vocabulary is archaic and its difficult to understand the idiomatic expressions of the time, but you can ask him anything and he knows exactly what it is and how to approach it, emphasized Oliveras.
Zayas, 70, loves this play for the language and the rhythm, which reminds him of the zanies and other intriguing characters of the Italian Commedia dellarte. It takes place in occupied Italy, when the Spanish Empire controlled most of the country. It is atypical of Lopes almost 500 surviving works of manners and decorum the cape and sword plays of gentlemen and ladies of high society. This is a world of frank unbridled sensuality, humor that borders on the grotesque and a repudiation of honor. The lower class, rife with French, Spanish and Italian prostitutes, mingles freely with the upper class. It is another phase of Spanish society of the time in which people will do anything to make a living, said Zayas.
The main character is a kind of Don Juan Tenorio, not a typical caballero of the Golden Age. Lope said a lot of things that he wouldnt be able to write about later as he became more a part of the establishment, which included the monarchy. It is a very agile and fast play that basically speaks about morality and the situation of people in a big city. The conflicts are not that different from today, said Oliveras.
While TC was originally conceived to perform the classics, early on they realized they also needed to do some Latin American theater; hence, the círculo. Traditionally, Spain and Latin America have been kept apart, and we wanted to be inclusive, says Oliveras, whos lived in New York for twenty-two years. So each year they introduce one contemporary and one classical piece. As a bridge with artists from the island (from Wednesday, October 21 to Sunday, October 25), in collaboration with the Puerto Rican theater group Palanganas, Inc., TC is presenting 7 Veces 7 (7 Times 7) seven short plays by seven different contemporary Puerto Rican writers, based on the seven capital sins, as directed by Iliana Garcia. Oliveras describes the plays as running the gamut from the erotic to the extremely funny. The show will be performed in Spanish, with no translation.
In addition to these two mainstage productions and touring program in the boroughs, in cities across the United States and Europe, TC has also developed a three-month spring training program for Latino professional actors, in which important teachers and directors like Antunes Fihlio from Brazil, Luis Jiménez from Paris and Vicente Martínez from UCLA come to teach. We need trained actors, asserted Oliveras. If Latino actors want to train in Spanish, they have to go to their American theater program or English classical program and have to translate that to Lorca, Siglo de Oro, and that doesnt translate, Oliveras explained.
Three years ago, Teatro Círculo bought the upper floor of a three-story historic building at 64 East 4th Street (between 2nd and 3rd Avenues) from the city, thus becoming the first Latino theater company to own its own theater in Manhattan. The stipulation was if they could present a viable plan to renovate it, it was theirs for one dollar. Teatro IATI, a contemporary Latino performing arts organization, and Choices Theater Project, an American theater group, are the other two owners. The three companies share overhead expenses.
Not only did Mayor Bloomberg agree to sell the building to us, he also gave $7 million to the block for capital renovations, said Oliveras. The Giuliani administration wanted to sell the buildings to developers.
TC has raised over $2.7 million of the $3 million they need to renovate their floor, which will include rehearsal space, office space, a kitchen, dressing rooms, air conditioning and lighting and sound systems. The theater itself is on the first floor. They expect to begin renovations by the end of the year.
TCs shoestring budget only allows for four full-time staff members: Oliveras, a managing director, a financial manager and a development director. Maybe we dont need to be bigger, Oliveras mused. A lot of companies are suffering and not able to pay, but we have been able to get by. I am very happy with what I am doing. There are so many Puerto Ricans and Latin Americans in this city, and I feel I am working for this community.
October 21 through 25, TC presents 7 Veces 7 seven short plays by seven different contemporary Puerto Rican writers. The show will be performed in Spanish, with no translation. El Caballero del Milagro will be presented Wednesday through Sunday, October 28 through November 15, in Spanish, with supertitles in English. For tickets and information, call 212-505-1808 or visit www.teatrocirculo.org.