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Jorge B. Merced is an award winning theater director, actor, cultural activist, and mentor with a strong passion for Latinx communities of practice and LGBTQ free expression. His manner of work draws from the principles of multidisciplinary collective creation, community self-determination, and lifelong learning in the arts. His choice disciplines are theater, music, and dance.
He is Associate Artistic Director (1987-present) at Pregones Puerto Rican Traveling Theater, aka Pregones/PRTT – a multigenerational performing ensemble, multidiscipline arts presenter, and steward of arts facilities in The Bronx and Manhattan’s Broadway district. With the company he makes musicals and plays rooted in Latinx cultures, leads the company’s ongoing LGBTQ programming, and presents fellow artists who share a twin commitment to the arts and civic enrichment. His decades-long leadership has been central to the company’s inter-borough NYC season, playing a decisive role in empowering underserved artists and audiences to claim their rightful place at the front of American theater.
Merced was born and raised in Carolina, Puerto Rico, and trained as a musician at the prestigious Escuela Libre de Música in San Juan, where he graduated High School. He came to the United States as a teenager in 1982, where he started out as a dancer in college and went on to receive an undergraduate degree from the City College of New York (CUNY) Theatre Department. He also completed advance theater studies in Cuba at the Escuela Internacional de Teatro de América Latina y el Caribe (International School of Latin American and Caribbean Theatre – 1988), and at the Alvin Ailey School in New York.
Merced is fully bilingual in English and Spanish, directing and performing in both languages. He has trained, performed, and directed throughout the U.S. and abroad in Brazil, Chile, Cuba, France, Mexico, the Netherlands, Nicaragua, Peru, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Slovakia, and Spain.
Merced is openly gay and has spoken about how his personal experiences in Puerto Rico and New York have been profoundly marked by his sexuality. His activist and artistic trajectory has been widely documented in publications such as the following, by gay Puerto Rican author and scholar Lawrence La Fountain-Stokes:
- Translocas: The Politics of Puerto Rican Drag Performance. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2021.
- “Trans/Bolero/Drag/Migration: Music, Cultural Translation, and Diasporic Puerto Rican Theatricalities.” WSQ: Women’s Studies Quarterly (Special Issue on “Trans-“) 36.3–4 (Fall/Winter 2008): 190–209.
- “Entre boleros, travestismos y migraciones translocales: Manuel Ramos Otero, Jorge Merced y El bolero fue mi ruina del Teatro Pregones del Bronx.” Revista Iberoamericana 71.212 (July–Sept. 2005): 887–907.
Merced’s numerous professional credits include acting in more than 50 theatrical productions with leading roles in El Apagón (2014 – Best Actor NY ACE Award), El bolero fue mi ruina (1997-2005, and 2017 revival), Medea’s Last Rosary (1992 – Best Actor, NY ACE Award), and Baile Cangrejero (1991-2006).
He has directed over 20 Off-Broadway Mainstage & workshop productions with Pregones/PRTT, including: Quarter Rican (2019), Evolution of A Sonero (2018), The Bolero Was My Downfall (2017), The Marchers (2015 & 2018), Aloha Boricua (2014 & 2009), Neon Baby (2013), Noche tan linda (2013 – NY ACE Award), Baile Cangrejero (2011), Las Facultades (2010), Brides (2008), Migrants (2008), and Blanco (2006 – NY HOLA & ACE Awards).
Outside of Pregones/PRTT, his creative collaborations in both dance and theater include premieres with choreographer and indie musical icon Eduardo Alegría, acclaimed Puerto Rican director Pablo Cabrera, Puerto Rican painter, graphic artist and writer Antonio Martorell, and Bessie Award winning dancer and choreographer Arthur Aviles.
Other directing work includes Emilio Rodriguez’ Swimming While Drowning (Cara Mía Theater, Dallas, TX, 2018), Fellini’s La Strada (La Strada Company, NYC. ACE & HOLA Awards – Best Latino Production & Direction, 2010-11), Suzan Lori-Parks 365 Days/365 Plays (The Public Theater & Pregones, NYC, 2007), and Charles Rice-González’ Los Nutcrackers, A Christmas Carajo! (BAAD, NY, 2007-2010).
A frequent guest artist director with avant-garde New York City theater company IATI on East 4th Street, his most salient productions include Myrna Casas’ Verano Verano (2019), Jordi Casanova’s Gazoline (2018 – US Premiere), Ricardo Prieto’s El Huesped Vacío (2008), Walter Ventosilla’s El Mandatario Idiota (2015), Jose Luis Ramos Escobar’s The Smell of Pop-Corn (2010). and Pablo García Gámez’ Blanco (2006).
He currently serves as nominator for the prestigious Lucille Lortel Awards, recognizing excellence in New York Off-Broadway Theater (2017- present).
LGBTQ CULTURAL ACTIVISM WORK
Steering committee member of the historic Boricua Gay and Lesbian Forum (1987-88) and founding member of Latino Gay Men of New York (1990), Merced received many recognitions for his LGBTQ activism, including the NY Latino PRIDE Award together with the late Stone Wall pioneer Sylvia Rivera.
Merced’s commitment to AIDS prevention and education led him to spearhead Pregones’ El abrazo/The Embrace from 1987 to 1993, documented in his own published article “Teatro y SIDA.” CENTRO: Journal of the Center for Puerto Rican Studies 6.1–2 (1994): 174–6.
This AIDS community education project was based on the theories of Augusto Boal and has been carefully analyzed by the Puerto Rican scholar and actress Eva C. Vásquez in her book Pregones Theatre (2003), which includes an interview with Merced.
In 2002, Merced created the Asunción Playwrights Project as a way to “showcase the work of Latino playwrights exploring issues of difference and transformation at the limits of queer identity.” The project includes a national play competition, public readings of up to four plays (followed by discussions with the audience), and workshop productions of the winning play. This ground breaking project is documented in La Fountain-Stokes’ “Pregones Theater’s 2003 Asunción Playwrights Project.” Latin American Theatre Review 37.2 (Spring 2004): 141–46. Winning playwrights have included Gonzalo Aburto (2003), Ricardo Bracho and Pablo García Gámez (2004), Charles Rice-González (2005), Chuy Sanchez (2006), Aravind Adyanthaya (2007), Fernanda Coppel (2009), and Vicky Grise (2011).
Merced’s performance in Pregones’s play El bolero fue mi ruina [The Bolero Was My Downfall] (1997–2002, restaged in 2005 and in 2017) has received significant critical reception. In this one-man show (with live musical accompaniment), Merced portrays two Puerto Rican characters: Loca, an incarcerated transvestite bolero singer, and Nene Lindo [Pretty Boy], her boyfriend, whom she murdered. This Spanish-language play was adapted by Merced from a short story by the deceased Puerto Rican gay author Manuel Ramos Otero. It was first directed by Rosalba Rolón. In 2017 Merced re-conceptualized the work as a four-actor production in English.
Merced has also collaborated with the Puerto Rican gay scholar Luis Aponte-Parés in documenting the history of gay Puerto Ricans in New York City and Boston in the seminal work “Páginas Omitidas: The Gay and Lesbian Presence.” Penned by Merced and Aponte-Parés in the book The Puerto Rican Movement: Voices from the Diaspora, eds. Andrés Torres and José E. Velázquez, 296–315. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1998. ISBN 1-56639-618-2
He has spoken extensively about his gay activism in the 2001 interview with Arnaldo J. López, Ph.D.’s “Teatro Pregones: Interview with Jorge Merced.” Archived August 7, 2008, at the Wayback Machine Community Arts Network Reading Room (2001), and written by Arnaldo J. López, Ph.D.
CREATIVE AGING AND LIFELONG ARTS LEARNING
Recognized as one of the leading Latino voices in the field of Creative Aging, Mr. Merced’s credits include: the National Center for Creative Aging – NCCA (Washington, DC, Board Member, 2010-2017), Elders Share The Arts (NY, 1987-1991), ArtSage (MN, 2012), and the Arizona Commission on the Arts (AZ, 2016-2018). He is a Featured Master Trainer in the online video resource for Alzheimer caregiving teams The Creative Caregiving Initiative and Toolkit for NCCA, and conducted special on-site launching trainings in Orlando FL, Los Angeles CA, and Milwaukee WI (2015-16). He also conducted intensive creative aging trainings for cultural workers at the Arte Academy with the Korea Arts & Culture Education Service (KACES – South Korea, 2018).
Merced was Co-chair with Sandra Gibson (DC) and David Cutler (UK) of NCCA’s 2016 The Creative Age: Global Perspectives on Creativity and Aging conference in Washington DC. He was also a presenter and think-tank leader in the National Endowment for the Arts’ Creative Aging Summit in Washington D.C. (2015).
He is Co-writer of the New York City Department of Education’s Blueprint For Teaching and Learning in The Arts – Theater, Grades PreK-12. For this Blueprint he served as think-tank team member and was responsible for creating the High School Theater curriculum in collaboration with two other theater specialists. (2004-2005).
He played a leadership role in the Latino Center On Aging’s 1st Spanish-language conference on elder abuse, where Pregones/PRTT premiered its original forum theater play titled EL CHEQUE, dealing with older adult domestic violence.
With Pregones/PRTT he also heads the company’s Seniors In Motion – a creative aging program and living history theater festival, and the Education Program, conducting and collaborating in master workshops and trainings in Puerto Rico, Cuba, Portugal, Mexico, Spain, Perú, Venezuela, Chile, France, and the United States.
International Theater Work
International touring performance and residencies credits include Cuba, Portugal, South Africa, Mexico, Spain, Peru, Venezuela, Chile, France, Holland, Korea, and US.
Jorge is a leading partner in the Worldwide Virtual Theater Carrousel bringing together Sering Theater (Antwerp, Belgium), Arena y Esteras (Lima, Perú), Tswelopele Performing Artists (Tembisa, South Africa), and Pregones Theater (The Bronx, NY). He is also a leading partner in Artspace’s Distance Collaboration Program, bringing together PA’I Foundation (Hawaii), Alaska Native Heritage Center (Anchorage), La Mama (NY) and Pregones Theater (The Bronx) in the creation of several multi-media spectacles and virtual collaborations (2013-2018).
Merced has received multiple awards from the New York ACE Latino Critics and Hispanic Organization of Latin Actors (HOLA), including Best Actor and Best Director recognitions. He has also received the Puerto Rican Institute of New York Distinguished Actor/Director Award, the BRIO Bronx Artist Award, and the New York PRIDE Award for his advocacy on behalf of the Puerto Rican Transgender, Bisexual, Lesbian and Gay Community. In 2008, the New York City Spanish-language daily newspaper El Diario/La Prensa honored him with the “Él” Award as one of the 25 outstanding Latinos of the year.