Premieres April 12, 2022 at 8:00 PM

The First Twenty: Queer Latine Voices at Teatro Pregones

On The WNET Group’s ALL ARTS

The First Twenty: Queer Latine Voices at Teatro Pregones
Premieres Tuesday, April 12 at 8 p.m. ET on
Access: AD, CC available.

Latine theater makers recall the course-changing gathering of queer playwrights in this short documentary celebrating 10 years of the Asunción Playwrights Project and the ongoing trajectory of LGBTQIA+ artists and works at Pregones Puerto Rican Traveling Theater (Pregones/PRTT). Led by award-winning theater director and activist Jorge B. Merced (Associate Artistic Director of Pregones/PRTT), in collaboration with DominiRican Productions artists Pierre Jean González (“Hamilton,” “American Made”) and Cedric Leiba Jr. (“Gets Good Light” – 2020 Tribeca Nominated Best Narrative Short), the film explores how a new millennium for queer identity, expression and storytelling took shape in the South Bronx. Interviewees joining Merced include Virginia Grise (“Blu” – winner of the 2010 Yale Drama Series Award), Arnaldo J. López Ph.D. (Cultural Activist and Managing Director of Pregones/PRTT), Charles Rice Gonzalez (co-founder of BAAD! And author of “Chulito” – 2013 Stonewall Book Award), Marco Antonio Rodríguez (“Ashes of Light” and Spanish theater adaptation of Junot Díaz’s “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao”), Pablo García Gámez (NY HOLA and NY ACE Best Play awards for “Blanco” and “Noche Tan Linda”), Rosalba Rolón (Founder and Artistic Director of Pregones/PRTT), and Edwin Sánchez (winner of the National Latino Playwriting Award for “La Bella Familia”). Produced by The WNET Group’s ALL ARTS in partnership with Pregones/PRTT.


Nationwide on the free ALL ARTS app and, and in the New York metro area on the ALL ARTS TV channel (channel lineup). This film and all films on the ALL ARTS series have audio description (AD) and closed captioning (CC) available.

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More from Jorge B. Merced – Click To Open

The team from ALL ARTS asked PregonesPRTT’s Associate Artistic Director and founder of the Asunción Playwrights Project, Jorge B. Merced to elaborate more on the reasons for making this film and the long trajectory of LGBTQIA+ voices in the company. What follows are excerpts from that conversation:

ALL ARTS: Could you describe how your film “Queer Latine Voices at Teatro Pregones” fits into the themes of “The First Twenty”?

MERCED: As a theater artist who came of age in the late 20th century, and someone who draws inspiration from struggles for liberation, particularly within the realm of Latine LGBTQIA+ lives, I believe the first two decades of this century point to a major paradigm shift in the U.S. and the world. Silence is no longer our mandate. There is still a long road ahead of us, but we have seen our stories and voices lifted more than before. I also believe these gradual shifts within communities of color very often precede the larger population and are rarely documented as such. This film aims to formally document one of such moments of exploration, dialogue and celebration, by and primarily for LGBTQIA+ artists and audiences in the heart of The South Bronx. Re-claiming this history with this film, using the tools of my craft and asking questions about the identities I hold most dear is as much affirmation as an act of liberation.

ALL ARTS: How did you go about structuring the film to tell the story of Pregones?

MERCED: Before any filming took place, I began by re-visiting the long trajectory of queer artists, voices and works in our company. I gathered photos, playbills, reviews, scripts, posters and videos documenting how the company had consistently supported these voices before and during my time. From there I dove into the archives of our Asunción Playwrights Project and it’s guiding criteria. I reached out to as many artists that participated in the project as possible and invited them to be part of the film. I created a series of guiding questions for each of them. I then shared this rich tapestry of sources with our film directors and the team at DominiRican Productions. After they filmed the interviews, I provided the directors with a general story outline inspired by some of the major themes shared on camera. The aim was to honor the path and the social context that nurtured the project, the meaning that Asunción had for their understanding of their craft as theater makers, and the significance of celebrating these exchanges in The South Bronx. I also wanted to make sure each of the playwrights had the opportunity to talk about their works and the impact Asunción had on their ongoing development as artists. After that, the directors and the team at DominiRican Productions used that outline to scour the 7+ hours of interview footage, b-roll and archival material, and reduce it to 29 minutes. Many themes and anecdotes had to be left on the cutting room floor, perhaps for a later project. But what remained, truly captured this most important historical moment for our company and our South Bronx community.

ALL ARTS: In the film, you speak about the origins of the Asunción Playwrights Project. How did the program evolve over the course of its existence?

MERCED: I created the Asunción Playwrights Project following the success of our production El bolero fue mi ruina (The Bolero Was My Ruin) based on a short story by queer Puerto Rican author, the late Manuel Ramos Otero. After one of the many sold-out performances of this production in The Bronx, I heard a group of artists praising the unique queerness of the work and yearning for opportunities to develop their own queer voices. I structured the project as a one-time gathering of queer artists in tangent with this shared desire. The enthusiastic audience response on that first year and the absence of similar spaces made it crucial that we continue expanding Asunción.

Right then I worked with our current Managing Director Arnaldo J. López, Ph.D. in cementing the project’s criteria and expanding its national appeal. Our aim was to ensure the project highlighted works that went beyond coming out stories; works that explored issues of transformation and difference at the limits of queer identity. It was important to me that the works represented a varied experience and not be tied just to my taste or my personal interests. Once we were happy with the criteria, I removed myself as a voting member of the selection panel and grew the range of voices reviewing the works. Winners always joined invited scholars and critics in the selection panel for the following year and the project grew roots in the company. I remained present for all deliberations only to answer any questions regarding criteria. I also led most of the Q&A sessions after the performances and worked with the winning playwrights in developing their works and staging the productions.

A decade later, after several works were picked up by other theaters and many of the playwrights established meaningful partnerships with theater makers around the nation, we paused the project to work on a number of LGBTQIA+ works being generated within our company: Neon Baby – a musical inspired by the life of Juanito Xtravaganza from the famed House of Xtravaganza; the English staging of El Bolero Was My Downfall; and the upcoming (2023) Parrots at The Pagoda – inspired by 20th century Puerto Rican singer and bandleader Tito Rodríguez, a towering figure in Palladium-era Latin music and the embodiment of a certain kind of model masculinity, and his all but forgotten older brother, the also gifted but irrepressibly queer Johnny Rodríguez, a prolific trio musician and pioneering drag artist/producer who cultivated a public bad boy persona—the antithesis of Tito.

ALL ARTS: In the film, playwright Virginia Grise speaks about carving out spaces for queer communities. How is the theater especially suited for creating this?

In my opinion theater is one of the most generous and inclusive art forms, nurturing an array of approaches and artistic languages promoting social engagement and meaningfulness. It is also a most suitable space to explore new ways to question, enhance and reaffirm our identities and connections to society. Queer voices have always found a safe space at our theater to engage in such explorations. At the center of Virginia Grise’s play rasgos asiáticos is a queer desire to connect ancestry and representation from a very specific Chinese/Mexican experience; a desire universal in its aim precisely by the specificity of its approach. Theater becomes the perfect realm to invite audiences to connect with her journey in a myriad of experiential ways, supported by an invitingly poetic and visually arresting approach far removed from didactic barriers. Only a work of theater can accomplish this.

ALL ARTS: Playwright Charles Rice-González notes the community aspect of bringing a play to life. What is your favorite part about the process of realizing works as part of Asunción?

MERCED: The opportunity to grow together and learn from each other in a safe queer space, was my favorite part of the process of realizing works in Asunción. Unpacking the many layers of a story and the worlds proposed by each of the plays from a communal framework was most inspiring. We worked diligently at creating a safe space for dialogue and input, not just for the creative team but for the audience as well. Winning plays went through a year-long development phase after being selected before the final staging, informed by the initial feedback from the selection panel and the audience that attended the readings. This intimate process between playwright and director was always one of my favorite parts of Asunción. Many of the plays were written specifically for the project, so it was the first time the authors saw their characters come to life. For instance, the characters in Charles Rice-González play I Just Love Andy Gibb had lived only in Charles’ mind until we began to work on the play as a team. As we moved from the page to the stage, it was a joy to see the arc of the story develop before us, informed by how the actors were exploring their character’s motivations and questions about race, gender, and sexuality.

ALL ARTS: Early on, Rosalba Rolón describes how Pregones brought audience members into the conversation surrounding the HIV crisis in New York City. Could you speak a little about the role of theater in activism?

MERCED: We are fortunate that our company grew out of the popular theater tradition in Latin America and the Caribbean, where artmaking and cultural activism go hand in hand. When the HIV crisis was at its highest in our community, we immediately knew that live theater was the most suitable and accessible platform for prevention and education. Inspired by the teachings of Brazilian theater maker Augusto Boal, we adapted his Theater Of The Oppressed principles to create short Forum Theater plays exploring how fear and lack of information was challenging the way we were dealing with the AIDS crisis. We brought on board a health worker who traveled with our troupe through hospitals, halfway houses, prisons, church basements, school auditoriums and everywhere we could interact directly with audiences in both Spanish and English. The stories came directly from the anecdotes we gathered from individuals on the frontlines of the epidemic. We provided an urgent opportunity for audiences to “rehearse for real life” by inviting them to join the actors onstage and create their own ending to each of the stories. Afterwards, our health educator would go onstage to review the different solutions provided by the audience in an open AIDS information workshop. This was theater at its most urgent and direct expression in a time where our communities needed it most.

ALL ARTS: Playwright Edwin Sánchez talks about humor in works. What role does comedy play in giving further insight into stories?

MERCED: Theater thrives most when it is entertaining. And humor is at the center of how our communities engage best with difficult or delicate issues. Good humor is intrinsically social, especially when it invites folks to laugh together instead of laughing at each other. Humor is cultural, or rather humor that is keenly grounded in culture celebrates common ground and gives way to connections far stronger than any other form of interaction. It opens the door to understand we are not so different from each other; it invites us to figure things out as a group and celebrate each other.

ALL ARTS: What role do presenters play in making theater more equitable?

MERCED: While representation is important, I believe equity is an ongoing practice with multiple layers that go beyond just having diversity on a stage. Beyond increased revenue, presenters must ask themselves why it is important to them to invite a more diverse audience or group of artists to their venues, and most of all, what are the ways in which those artists and that community can continue to feel welcomed beyond an isolated instance. I often hear of organizations or presenters interested in being more inclusive, but very often they are not ready to open all their doors to those individuals and stories repeatedly. It takes commitment and willingness to listen and adapt for those communities to feel welcome and return. It is good to open a door, as long as that door also leads to incorporating those individuals in the decision-making circles within that institution. Not everyone is ready for those changes, and when that is the case, our communities can see right through them.

ALL ARTS: How has the pandemic affected Pregones? Do you see current world events working their way into artists’ work?

We are still understanding the impact of the pandemic on the process of artmaking. We all became more adept at creating digital interactions. We learned to develop works online better, rehearse from different locations at the same time, stream high quality events, and sometimes experimented with direct audience engagement. Race and social equity may have taken a front seat in many arenas around the nation, but for our communities of color those issues and preoccupations have always been part of our daily endeavor. Not to say we don’t have room to grow, but so far, the themes and the works created by our artists continue to explore and highlight unrepresented voices and stories. One thing remains clear: live theater and performance, in my view, has no substitute. And we will continue to make sure those opportunities remain essential.

ALL ARTS: What do you hope to see for the next 20 years?

MERCED: As Edwin Sánchez alludes in his interview, I hope that the bridges we create between generations and cultures remain rich with many voices and stories. I hope to see the institutions grounded in communities that have historically been under funded and underrepresented, are granted the resources to thrive and continue to be the door through which many of those individuals understand and participate of the arts. And I hope our LGBTQIA+ stories are celebrated with the same impetus, respect and care as our stories deserve.

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Our Esteemed Funders – Click To Open

Trailer and still frame from The First Twenty: Queer Latine Voices at Teatro Pregones by the team at ALL ARTS.

Special thanks to our film directors Cedric Leiba Jr., and Pierre Jean Gonzalez from DominiRican Productions, and to PregonesPRTT’s Associate Artistic director Jorge B. Merced.

PregonesPRTT programs made possible, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, in partnership with the City Council, and the New York State Council on the Arts, with the support of Governor Kathy Hochul and the New York State Legislature. For a full list of our funders, visit

Event Details

  • Location

    Watch FREE:
    ALL ARTS app,
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  • Date & Time

    Premieres APRIL 12, 2022
    8:00 PM Eastern


    Cedric Leiba Jr.
    Pierre Jean Gonzalez
    from DominiRican Productions

    Pablo García Gámez
    Virginia Grise
    Arnaldo J. López, Ph.D.
    Jorge B. Merced
    Jessica Moya
    Charles Rice González
    Marco Antonio Rodríguez
    Rosalba Rolón
    Edwin Sánchez
    Carlos Valencia