GALA Hispanic Theatre just kicked off their 46th year of community-based, bilingual theatre, and in their multi-decade run they’ve consistently raised the bar for Hispanic representation in the arts.
Since its inception in 1976, GALA (Grupo de Artistas Latino Americanos) has worked tirelessly to both improve access to Spanish speaking plays for Washingtonians, and show the English-speaking public how rich Hispanic theatre can be. Hugo Medrano started the theater with a group of close friends and his now-wife Rebecca Medrano after working at a Spanish-speaking children’s theater and seeing a pressing need for legitimate cultural resources.
“Bilingual arts programs, such as those at GALA, provide Latinx adults, children and youth a means of staying connected to their culture and families, while expanding the cultural horizons of the non-Latinx public by introducing them to a culture different from their own,” Rebecca Medrano says. She is GALA’s executive director, while Hugo is the theater’s producing artistic director.
Hugo Medrano has called GALA “Latino in the fullest sense,” referring specifically to the breadth of Spanish speaking identities they cater to. GALA reflects the Hispanic heritage of the District by not only representing one specific ethnic or national identity, but the Spanish speaking world in its entirety. Their audience (and actors) have been Argentines, Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Spaniards, Cubans, Chileans, Uruguayans, Paraguayans, Peruvians — anyone who claims the heritage of a Spanish speaking country is welcome.
“Unlike New York’s large Puerto Rican and Dominican community and Miami’s large Cuban community, D.C.’s Spanish-speaking community is not homogenous,” Rebecca Medrano tells us. “For this reason, each season we present plays or musicals from a variety of national or cultural origins so we serve all sectors of D.C.’s Hispanic community.”
GALA found its home in 2005 at the historic Tivoli Theatre. Everything is bilingual-access. GALA switched to a real time subtitle system for their live performances recently, replacing an in-ear translation to allow audiences to have the full experience, unhindered.
GALA has also consistently worked to accommodate their wide audience — even going as far as to tailor their performance lineup to socio-political circumstance.
“In the 1980s, there was a new wave of Central American immigrants seeking refuge from Civil Wars and failing economies,” Rebecca Madrano says. “So, GALA tweaked its programming to include more Central American work, as well as music.”
Nearly 12% of the District’s residents are bilingual Spanish speaking, as of 2019. That’s an astonishing 79,000+ Washingtonians. In the Washington Metropolitan Area, that number skyrockets to over 800,000 Spanish speaking residents. Of all the non-English speaking households, about 50% are Spanish speaking — the largest of any language minority.
GALA also provides unique opportunities for youth and community development to the Columbia Heights neighborhood, and has throughout the pandemic. They’re a recognized nonprofit, providing both virtual and in-person safe spaces for artistic enrichment. In 2012, they received recognition for their youth arts programs via the National Arts and Humanities Youth Arts Program Award. Again in 2015, they were awarded the 50/50 Applause Award by The International Center for Women Playwrights for having more than 50% of plays written by female playwrights.
“Because it is still such a challenge in Latin America (and many parts of the world) for women to successfully break into the entertainment or theater world, we feel it is important to give them a voice in our programming and shine a light on their stories,” Rebecca Medrano says.
This season, three out of their five shows were written by women, and all five feature women in leading roles or tell a woman’s story.
GALA estimates 23,000 people are serviced yearly by their outreach, productions, exhibits and overall efforts. Employing more than 190 artists and offering 110 classes, they’re one of the largest bilingual theatres in the country. GALA has become the de-facto National Center for Latino Performing Arts, a title well-deserved in capacity and impact alike.
In their nearly 50 years of existence, GALA has brought social commentary and individual experience to the stage with each production. Their 2021-22 season includes events such as La Llamada de Sylvia Méndez, the 17th Annual Flamenco Festival and GALA Film Fest.
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