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    Posted February 1, 2008

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First Latino Theatre Symposium Hosted by Western EEO Committee

By Nancy Daly
Chair of the EEO Committee

"Somos Todos Familia"- "we are all family." And on December 3, 2007, actors and theatrical artists from all ethnicities- Latino, Asian, African American and Caucasian- gathered together to honor the Latino Theatre Community of Los Angeles.

The Western Region Equal Employment Opportunity Committee hosted Equity's first Latino Theatre Symposium, Somos Todos Familia, at the Los Angeles Theatre Center in downtown Los Angeles. Actors, playwrights, directors, producers, and others from the theatrical community joined together to work with and challenge AEA on ways to better serve their Latino brothers and sisters.

President Mark Zimmerman sent a letter expressing his best wishes and underscoring Equity's commitment to increasing diversity and inclusion in the American Theatre for all special interest groups. "As artists, we are blessed with talents that we share, not only with our immediate audiences, but with a wider community. We have the ability to raise a voice for those who may not have the means or opportunity to speak for themselves. Through that voice, we can encourage and support positive change and outreach to communities that comprise the diverse mosaic of our society."

Michael John Garces, a renowned playwright, performer and director and present Artistic Director of the Cornerstone Theatre, served as a skillful and knowledgeable moderator for the evening, which included Geno Silva (The Merchant of Venice, Zorro, Cane) and Tony Plana (Ugly Betty, Resurrection Boulevard). Both gentlemen also starred on Broadway in the original production of Zoot Suit. There was much appreciation: Equity provides its actors with comprehensive health insurance and benefits, takes great care of its members on the road in terms of housing and per diems and through the many SPT and LOAs, we have a multitude of contractual options for beginning theatres. At the same time, all three gentlemen mentioned that yes, plays by Latino playwrights are often developed in workshops, but invariably, they are produced on the road and in regional theatres. It is very rare for workshop productions by Latino playwrights to be produced under contract in Los Angeles. One young Latino actress mentioned that she had auditioned for Cervantes' Man of La Mancha, only to discover that it was cast entirely with Caucasian actors. The discussion was riveting, brutally forthright. How can Equity build better bridges of communication and increase interaction and contract opportunities for this community? The level of passion and determination was very vivid and heartfelt. The Latino Theatrical Community of Los Angeles was ready and willing to work with Equity to accomplish all of this, and more.

The East LA Classic Theatre presented a scene from Romeo and Juliet set in the 1940s featuring Gabriel Oliva, a new Equity member, and Amye Olivo, an Equity Membership Candidate, directed by Tony Plana. Both young actors joined the panel following their beautifully performed scene and brought a fresh and candid point of view to the discussion. Amye shared her concerns about the EPA audition process. A young actress seeking representation in LA, would any work come to her out of the EPAs? We readily assured her that with her talent, yes, there would be. Gabriel, as the son of two professional opera singers, rejoiced in the recent acquisition of his union card. He "took the plunge" and was eager to continue to pursue his career in musical theatre.

The evening was a glorious success in many ways. It was the first Latino Theatre Symposium for Actors' Equity. Members of the theatrical community brought their concerns and their requests to their union, and in return, we gave them our word that we would follow through. It is the intention of the Western Region EEO Committee that this event serve as a springboard to our union brothers and sisters in office cities around the country, and to the Association as well, in taking a leadership role in organizing marginalized communities of theatrical artists. We take care of our own.

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