The three Austin playwrights showcased at the Autin Latino New Play Festival last week could not have had a gentler or more supportive audience. Organizers Rupert Reyes and Joanne Carrion-Reyes founded their Teatro Vivo about ten years ago, producing appealing, comic pieces, usually written by Rupert and featuring him.
Just the way that Austin has branded itself as the home of "live music," the Reyes' theatre group is known for its "live theatre." "Teatro vivo" can also mean "lively theatre," and their productions have always been that. They reach out to the Tejano community, that large and increasing population of this town whose first language is English but who have close, family familiarity with the Spanish-language community, principally of Mexican connection.
These were staged readings in the recently inaugurated "black box" theatre on the south end of the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican-American Cultural Center. Rupert or Joanne prepped the expectant audiences, explaining that the festival was designed to assist playwrights by putting their works of imagination before live audiences for the first time. Actors carried their scripts with them and moved across minimalist sets. Decoration and costuming existed mostly in the minds of the audiences. Both of the longer pieces used an on-stage reader to deliver the authors' stage directions and descriptions of silently mimed action.
Teatro Vivo has produced full-length works by two of the three writers. Erica Saenz' piece for the festival, Lightning Strikes, comes a year after their production of another family comedy Keeping Track a year ago at the Salvage Vanguard Theatre, and Raul Garza's Dos Pocitos follows a fine production of his Fantasmaville at the Long Center's Rollins Theatre in November, 2008.
The three pieces workshopped by a recognizable regulars from Teatro Vivo differed in form and subject matter. Saenz' s Lightning Strikes examines three households in "the Valley" -- the Rio Grande valley at the southernmost tip of Texas. Roxanne Schroeder-Arce's one-act play Mariachi Girl focuses on the yearnings of an 8-to-10 year old girl to sing the mariachi music of her father and grandfather. Garza's Dos Pocitos posits a hypothetical future in which the United States has de-accessioned an area of southern Texas, leaving it to drug runners, roving bands and the few stubborn Tejanos who refused to move to safer areas of the state.