The Austin Latino Theater Alliance (ALTA) was born fourteen years ago as a nonprofit organization with the purpose of uniting and supporting the development of Latino theater. For the first twelve years, ALTA’s main focus was on maintaining the tradition of the community production of La Pastorela, a nativity play that dates back to the 16th century, when Spanish missionary priests first introduced it to the Aztec people. The original script and music, passed on from generation to generation, recount the shepherds’ journey to Bethlehem as they encounter manifestations of evil that attempt to keep them from reaching their destination.
Alejandro Pedemonte, born and raised in Lima, Peru, joined ALTA in 2012 as Director and Producer. Pedemonte---who has starred in various television series on Fox, Telemundo, and Starz---also co-founded Proyecto Teatro and directed the first full-Spanish production at Austin’s historical Paramount Theatre.Together with ALTA’s Artistic Director Karla Longnion, Pedemonte redesigned and redefined what ALTA could be for the Austin community. Expanding from its original focus, ALTA’s work now seeks to challenge the preconceptions of Latino theater, as well as to become a source of inspiration and redemption that goes beyond activism and folklore. “In ALTA, we believe that the art of theatre is a cultural force with the capacity to transform the lives of individuals and society at large,” says Pedemonte.
Born in Mexico City and raised in Baja California, where she had her first theater experience, Longnion started developing her artistic abilities from a young age by participating in the school district’s declamation and oratory program. In college, she studied the art of theater and after moving to Austin, she continued her acting education, eventually becoming artistic director of ALTA. “The Austin Latino Theater Alliance takes pride in being a platform for artists that are ready to share their talent, take the next step or give their first in exploring the performing arts,” states Longnion.
Anjanette Gautier, one of the actors in the ALTA theater company, has also been instrumental in developing the group’s identity. From Yucatan, Gautier has always had a great passion for theater and other arts. She started her theater instruction with Tito Diaz – under his direction she lead a youth theater troupe that presented classic, children and comedic theater in Yucatan. She had one of the two lead roles in ALTA’s most recent theater production of Rosa de Dos Aromas.
Today, ALTA is formed by a community of artists and volunteers who are firmly committed to fostering the development of new talents in the theater arts, promoting collaborative productions among local and international artists, and bringing the highest quality theater to the Austin audiences and surrounding cities. Under the direction of Pedemonte, ALTA inaugurated its 2012-2013 season with the presentation of the comedic drama Cuerdas, directed by Daniela Ruiz and written by Barbara Colio, the first Mexican playwright to win the María Teresa León International Prize for female playwrights. Cuerdas set a new standard for Latin American theater in the United States.
The theater company just closed its production of Rosa de Dos Aromas, written by the late award-winning Mexican playwright Emilio Carballido (1925-2008). Carballido’s theater brings to light the contradictions, preconceptions and ideologies of the different social classes, particularly those of the middle class. Many of his works combine “high culture” with “popular culture” – this aligns with ALTA’s mission of making classical Latin American theater accessible to the greater community.
The play was presented in Spanish with English “surtitles,” carrying on the tradition started by Cuerdas in the late summer of 2012. The plot and setting of Rosa de Dos Aromas is simple and universal: the unfolding of painful secrets in a love triangle between two women and one man, taking place in the waiting room of a jail. The play also gave voice to an issue essential to feminism, in which a woman looks at herself through the eyes of another woman in the context of her relationship with a man. Carballido’s most resounding characteristic was bringing to light the social issues women have had to deal with through many generations while placing a special emphasis on women’s emancipation throughout the Latin American cultures.
For the 2013 production of La Pastorela, directed by Patricio Villareal, ALTA is going back to a more traditional script with all the original elements (angels, demons, and shepherds) but setting it in a contemporary musical format, which highlights audience participation and collaboration throughout the performance. A musical director and Austin musician who defines his genre as “cosmic urban Latino,” Kiko Villamizar will give La Pastorela a fresh new spin with his background in folk, jazz, reggae, and Afro-Colombian music. La Pastorela will run at the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights from December 6-22.
ALTA’s mission goes far beyond presenting Spanish and English language theater productions to the Austin community. They also serve as an artistic launch pad for local, national, and international talent, as well as provide practical experience in the theater arts, management, and production to future professionals, through mentorship programs, classes, and workshops. In collaborating with other community organizations, educational institutions and social service agencies, ALTA hopes to preserve and celebrate the Spanish language as a vehicle of cultural communication and understanding, and to contribute to the enrichment of the Hispanic community. For more information about the Austin Latino Theater Alliance, visit www.altateatro.com.
Alexandra M. Landeros