Two people observing the same event may and will probably recount it differently. Multiply that by 10 or 20 people and you’ll probably end up with just as many versions. There is a difference, though, between witnessing, perceiving or researching an event and writing about it, and rewriting history to secure a position of privilege within certain structures. Victors, especially, tend to be good at that.
Did we need yet another history lesson on stage? Apparently we did! The recent, well deserved success of Hamilton reminds us of the difference between owning history and rewriting it to fit whatever. Gee, everything was going so well. Many have read ‘the’ books. And yet, here is a way to absorb history, told by unlikely storytellers on the big Broadway stage and oh, so much more fun! At the helm of the Hamilton success: an extraordinary creative team and cast, led by LIN-MANUEL MIRANDA. Bravo!
The artists of Pregones Theater have, over 37 years, developed repertory of new works that is rich and broad in scope, including a substantial roster of historical musical plays. Our scale is different from that of large productions, though. So is our aesthetic core. The structure of our musical plays was shaped by our early years of touring throughout the country and internationally. In our early years our repertory consisted of pieces that were adaptable to small and large stages, in Spanish and/or in English. We drew from the well of image theater informed by events old and new, all elements of the then prolific popular theater movement in Latin American and the Spanish Caribbean. Our musical plays and stories needed to fit the tiny stage of a Barrio restaurant, the main stage of the Pushkin Theatre in Moscow, a high school auditorium in Chicago, Central Park’s Bandshell or University of Puerto Rico Theater, to name a few.
We like to look at the fine print of history. We like to think that our historical musicals are audience favorites. Leave history alone? Never! For example: when all seemed to have been told about the McCarthy era we broke the silence with The Red Rose, for how well known was the story of Jesus Colón, his writings and the Puerto Rican Reds? We told ourselves: BREAK IT! When the story of the Harlem Hellfighters seemed on a steady course, we couldn’t stay still as we learned about immense contributions of Puerto Rican musicians to the band. They were half of the band! We told ourselves: BREAK IT! And The Harlem Hellfighters On A Latin Beat was born. What is sound and what is noise? It depends on who you ask. For many Hawaiians, coquís make noise. For Puerto Ricans in and outside of Hawaii, they make sounds. Aloha Boricua made sound by staging the journey of Puerto Ricans lured to work on the cane fields of Hawaii in the first half of the 20th Century, based on the story by Manuel Ramos Otero.
We forge lasting alliances with artists, scholars, students, labor unions, churches, neighborhood associations, even astronauts! The Center for Puerto Rican Studies/CUNY, The Library of Congress, scholars and universities have extended themselves to our artistic inquiry. The result is not a book or a paper or an article. It will always be a play, most likely a musical play often based not on what is obvious, but on what we find in the fine print.
Our actors, composers, musicians, directors, choreographers, designers keep looking for things to break. We look at the fine print. NOT BROKEN? BREAK IT!
BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE:
This Fall, Pregones + Puerto Rican Traveling Theater offers a vast menu of productions by our ensemble and by guest artists, films, dance programs and our unique LET’S TALK. Browse our website, check out our offers and free programming. Take our Bronx Manhattan Theater Express and ride, ride, ride!