September 8, 2006

Old Globe Seeks to Increase Hispanic Audience with Noche bajo las estrellas

By Michael Klam

The bell ringing between acts next week at the Old Globe Theater in Balboa Park will be yet another call to increase diversity as the theater continues efforts to broaden its Spanish-speaking audience.

This coming Thursday, Sept. 14 at 6 p.m., the Globe will host an event called Noche bajo las estrellas, which includes a pre-show reception with appetizers, wine and martini bar, and a backstage tour. Tickets cost $85 with a special deal if you use your American Express card.

You won’t see Chicano icon and radical pedagogue Guillermo Gomez Peña in high heels imploring you to expose your cultural fetish. Nor will you see Culture Clash’s tele-addicted armchair revolutionary conjuring up Ché only to abandon his weapon and retreat to the remote control.

The performance for the night is Hershey Felder’s George Gershwin Alone, a one-man show described as “a delightful ‘play with music’ by actor, playwright and Steinway concert artist Hershey Felder.” The audience will experience Gershwin’s best-known work from An American in Paris and Porgy and Bess, to a complete performance of Rhapsody in Blue.

“We tried to pair it with a play that’s easy to digest for people with less English,” said Globe Board Member Viviana Ibañez. (The show is mostly musical.)

Ibáñez said that Noche bajo las estrellas was conceived for the San Diego Spanish-speaking community along with Baja California because “we realized that we were not reaching out to that part of the community.”

“I think it’s lack of outreach on our side and lack of knowledge on the other side,” she said. “I’ve been on board for three years, and I’ve noticed that many people don’t even know where the theater is.”

Ibáñez continued, “We are taking baby steps. It’s taking a lot of effort by Executive Director Louis Spisto and a lot of support from his staff.”

Spisto cites two major projects hosted by the theater to support and welcome Hispanics in the border region. The first was done in participation with the Centro Cultural de Tijuana: a bilingual, binational presentation of Romeo y Julieta in 2005.

Bilingual plays such as “Romeo y Julieta” were produced to attract Hispanic audiences.

The project involved high school students and community actors across the border. Educational partners in the Romeo y Julieta project included Preparatoria Federal Lázaro Cárdenas in Tijuana; Sweetwater High School in National City; The Preuss School in La Jolla; Valhalla High School in El Cajon; High Tech High and San Diego High School in San Diego; and Montgomery, Bonita Vista, Castle Park and Otay Ranch high schools in Chula Vista.

The play was not presented at the Old Globe, however. The performances ran at three sites in Tijuana and two others in San Diego, free of charge, to an audience of 3,500. Romeo y Julieta had a cast of 65, U.S. citizens and Mexican nationals sharing equal parts.

“We brought to life this story about a community divided, and we brought two communities together with two different languages on two different sides of the border,” said Spisto.

“It was a once in a lifetime experience,” he continued, “benefiting the community and the art form, but also the students.”

Spisto said that Romeo y Julieta was a very expensive project, but that The Globe is examining ways of doing this type of program every two years.

The second major project cited by Spisto was The Teatro Meta Education Program, a semester-long, bilingual play-writing program for middle school students that has been around since the ‘80s. The last Teatro Meta program ran in 2004.

Spisto said that the Globe will continue to look for ways to support Latino actors in the community by doing more work in the field with young people.

The Globe also has a diverse MFA program in cooperation with the University of San Diego. Actor David Villalobos and other students appeared in last year’s Shakespeare Festival.

As far as diversity on the stage goes, Spisto said that the theater uses color blind casting, “choosing actors based on ability, not their color.”

Since its inception and the first Shakespeare plays presented in 1935, The Globe has run relatively few Hispanic written or performed shows, including Two Sisters and a Piano by Cuban playwright Nilo Cruz, Chita Rivera: The Dancer’s Life, and Teatro Máscara Mágica’s acclaimed production of La Pastorela Noel.

The San Diego Repertory, in contrast, has premiered three recent plays by the father of Chicano theater, Luis Valdez, and artistic director, Sam Woodhouse, has produced more Chicano and Latin-American work than any other managing artistic director in San Diego.

The Repertory emphasizes work that represents the diversity of the region, according to Woodhouse. Its mission statement includes producing “adventurous programming that explores key spiritual, political and cultural values that are vital to our community, in partnership with artists and audiences who reflect the dynamic diversity of cultures, ages and economic means that characterizes the population of San Diego.”

La Jolla Playhouse has produced the work of Jose Rivera and Culture Clash. But San Diego theater, in general, has a way to go in representing its growing Hispanic population. Lamb’s Players Theatre, North Coast Repertory, Moonlight Stage Productions and Cygnet Theatre have run few Hispanic-based productions. And a major Latino-run theater space has yet to surface.

“People in Mexico are accustomed to going to the theater,” said Ibáñez. Yet, the Hispanic community in San Diego is still largely an untapped audience.

The Old Globe is making an attempt with Noche bajo las estrellas. As the theater increases the diversity of staff and stage, perhaps it will also produce more contemporary Hispanic stories for contemporary Hispanic audiences.

To find out more information about the theater visit, or to purchase tickets for Noche bajo las estrellas and Hershey Felder’s George Gershwin Alone, contact Erin McKown at (619) 231-1941, x2317 or e-mail

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