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Arizona cultural theater takes the stage

Actors from Mas, a doctumentary drama play written by Milta Ortiz about the banning of Mexican-American studies in the Tucson Unified School District. The play debuted at Borderlands Theater in Fall 2015.

Actors from Mas, a doctumentary drama play written by Milta Ortiz about the banning of Mexican-American studies in the Tucson Unified School District. The play debuted at Borderlands Theater in Fall 2015. Photo by: Borderlands Theater.

Milta Ortiz, moved to Tucson with her husband solely to write the documentary drama play titled Más, about the banning of Mexican-American studies in the Tucson Unified School District.

Ortiz, Borderland Theater’s marketing and outreach director, is passionately working with her husband, Marc Pinate, the theater’s producing director, to bring the theater centerstage to new audiences in Southern Arizona.

Borderlands Theater has undergone various changes since being founded 30 years ago by Barclay Goldsmith. But the emphasis of the theater has always been on the border voice and telling native stories, a mission that continues to thrive under Pinate’s direction.

The proximity between Mexico and Arizona has continually had a distinct influence on the culture and people of this state, and it is this culture that has distinctly begun to shape the performing arts in the southwest.

Niche regional theaters continue to establish giving voice to community members and often minority groups in cities around the country. As the Penumbra Theater gives voice to the African-American community in Minnesota, Borderlands Theater gives voice the Hispanic and Latino community in Arizona.

“Regional theater’s generally reflect the values of the region they are located,” said Bruce Brockman, director for the University of Arizona’s School of Theater. “It’s sometimes very subtle. You can’t help but not absorb as a theater artist something about the place you are living.”

Brockman has worked for the University of Arizona’s School of Theater for seven years as the college’s director. Brockman has experienced a variety of different regional art having lived all over the United States in the East Coast, Midwest, and now the West.

“There are unique things about Tucson that you see reflected in the kinds of work that that the theater artists here create,” said Brockman.

Más debuted as the first play for Borderlands Theater’s 2015 season. The play brought together people of all ages and cultures, which was unique for the theater whose typical patrons are liberal retired white individuals.

“We are now really interested in targeting that younger population, that hip audience and of course the Latino audience,” said Ortiz, “For very complicated reasons they are not going to the theater so our mission is to say the theater is for you, it is about you, you can partake in the theater experience.”

Forty-two percent of Tucson’s population is Hispanic or Latino, according to U.S. Census Data. This large population has distinct stories to tell and Borderlands Theater works to tell the unheard stories of the community.

The Hispanic and Latino community’s need for an artistic platform has been present in Arizona for sometime. Before founding Borderlands Theater, Goldsmith founded Teatro Libertad with six other local artists and musicians. The theater group was influenced by the tradition of teatro Chicano and the Chicano civil rights movement. They discussed issues experienced by the Chicano community in Tucson and the Southwest in the 70s. The group traveled around Arizona and California to perform. The group began slowly falling apart in the mid-80s, which inspired Goldsmith to start Borderlands Theater. 

“Most people nowadays don’t know about the city’s history and Tucson’s historic barrios,” said Ortiz, “We want to engage the audience in a new way and take it further.”

Borderlands Theater was recently awarded a $50,000 grant by the MetLife Foundation and administered by Theater Communications Group, the national organization for the professional not-for-profit American theater. The money is going toward producing Borderlands Theater’s “Barrio Stories Project.”

The theater has collected stories from Tucson residents who live or lived in the city’s historic barrios. The collected stories will then be performed in historic locations around the city.

Jacqueline Arias, a UA senior, went to see her first show at Borderlands Theater earlier this year titled “Barrio Monologues,” a series of dramatic monologues readings by students from Trio Upward Bound Program at Pima’s Desert Vista campus.

“It was extremely powerful,” said Arias, “I grew up here and didn’t realize I knew so little about the city and the people.”

And although most people think of New York when they think of the preforming arts, regional theaters like Borderlands Theater are taking innovative steps toward establishing national reputations. Borderlands Theater’s unique border location allows for the theater company to tap into the raw issues present in the southwest in a way that other theaters around the United States are not able to achieve. 

“One of my professors told me once that the forth act is when the somebody goes home and Google’s whatever was brought up in the play,” said Ortiz, “I really hold on to that, a play is entertaining and fun and it gives you something to think about, and thinking about it can bring change and that’s my goal.”

For more information on Borderlands Theater, visit borderlandstheater.org.

To find more regional and community theater’s in Arizona please refer to the map below. 

Click here for a Word version of this story and high-resolution photos.

Morrena Villanueva is a reporter for the Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact her at morrenav@email.arizona.edu. 

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