With Community Theatre Project, GALA Theatre Brings Immigrant Voices ‘Out of the Shadows’

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They are likely the unseen in our midst; that is until a particular, probably short-term job needs the informal employment market as the source of a worker. They have their own personal stories to tell, and few places to tell them. Their personal stories are likely unknown to many of us in the privileged classes.

Hugo Medrano, founding producing artistic director of GALA Hispanic Theatre. Photo courtesy of Hugo Medrano.
Hugo Medrano, founding producing artistic director of GALA Hispanic Theatre. Photo courtesy of Hugo Medrano.

But GALA Hispanic Theatre will be rectifying the invisibility of those in our communities such as Hispanic day laborers, through a community ensemble project. It aims to be a project to employ “performance to explore trauma and empower marginalized voices.” The experimental theater project is called Out of the Shadows.

The idea behind Out of the Shadows is to take on issues that others may not. In a recent interview, founding producing artistic director Hugo Medrano said, “remember that our name, GALA, comes from the acronym Grupo de Artistas LatinoAmericanos. Most of the members of our company are immigrants or descendants of immigrants. We are aware of how painful it is, first to leave your country (for political reasons or fear of losing your life), and second confronting a new culture, especially a culture with a deeply ingrained racism.”

“We know that as Latinos we have to excel in order to succeed, that is why GALA’s artistic work has surpassed the expectations of a ‘community theatre group,'” added Medrano. “But as an arts group whose mission it is to use theater as a vehicle for social justice and change, we have to be proactive at moments like these, to do our duty and fight for the rights of our people.”

“At this moment we live in a tense socio-political hysteria around immigration, race, and inequality. We think that theatre is a powerful tool to bring people together, to exchange ideas and provide options for our lives. Public presentations like Afuera de la sombra/Out of the Shadows, which will be performed at the Columbia Heights Civic Plaza, provide opportunities for diverse sectors of the community to interact, thus promoting a powerful and informative dialogue,” said Medrano.

GALA Theatre is working with Ecuadorian immigrant and award-winning performance artist, writer, and educator José Torres-Tama to develop the Out of the Shadows performance. For Torres-Tama, currently an artist-in-residence this year at GALA Theatre, the performance will present “personal truths so that the marginalized can reclaim their humanity and challenge anti-immigrant hysteria.”

“The community participants are developing an ensemble piece that explores the challenges of being an immigrant in this current environment with a political landscape that pushes an anti-immigrant hysteria and dehumanizes hard-working people in search of a dream,” said Torres-Tama. “Our motto is ‘No human being is illegal.’”

The focus of the Out of the Shadows production will be to turn very personal experiences and delicate stories about a wide gamut of issues that workers who hail from Central America often face, including wage theft, into theatre. The performance will also present creative responses to the removal of TPS (Temporary Protected Status).

Award-winning performance artist Jose Torres-Tama leads Out of the Shadows, a community theater project presented by GALA Hispanic Theatre. Photo by Ben Thompson.
Award-winning performance artist José Torres-Tama leads Out of the Shadows, a community theater project presented by GALA Hispanic Theatre. Photo by Ben Thompson.

A result of bilingual theater, voice and movement workshops led by Torres-Tama, Out of the Shadows will give expression and a vivid presence to an often voiceless, vulnerable population in the DC area. They are the immigrant youth, adults, day laborers, and migrant workers who will emerge out of the shadows in ways that speak to the today’s headlines.

“I hold steadfast to a belief that artists can serve as the conscience of our times, and create work that speaks a people’s truth,” said Torres-Tama. “My personal comic battle cry is NO Guacamole for Immigrant Haters!”

Out of the Shadows is presented in partnership with Trabajadores Unidos de Washington, DC, Carlos Rosario International Public Charter School and Cardozo High School International Academy, and with the support of the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities.

GALA Hispanic Theatre presents a free public performance of Out of the Shadows on Saturday, July 14 at 7 p.m. in the Columbia Heights Plaza -14th Street between Park Road & Kenyon Streets NW, in Washington, DC.

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David Siegel
David Siegel is a freelance theater reviewer and features writer whose work appears on DC Metro Theater Arts, ShowBiz Radio, in the Connection Newspapers and the Fairfax Times. He is a judge in the Helen Hayes Awards program. He is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association and volunteers with the Arts Council of Fairfax County. David has been associated with theater in the Washington, DC area for nearly 30 years. He served as Board President, American Showcase Theater Company (now Metro Stage) and later with the American Century Theater as both a member of the Executive Board and as Marketing Director. You can follow David's musings on Twitter @pettynibbler.