April is a theatrical month: Latinx Theater Symposium and Shakespeare on tap at UMass

UMass Amherst Theater Professor Elisa Gonzales is one of the key organizers of a Latinx Theater Symposium at the university April 8-9.

UMass Amherst Theater Professor Elisa Gonzales is one of the key organizers of a Latinx Theater Symposium at the university April 8-9. UMass Amherst Theater Department

JORGE HUERTA

JORGE HUERTA

Image courtesy UMass Amherst Theater Department

Image courtesy UMass Amherst Theater Department

Contributors to the new book “The Routledge Companion to Latine Theatre and Performance” will be part of the Latinx Theater Symposium at UMass Amherst April 8-

Contributors to the new book “The Routledge Companion to Latine Theatre and Performance” will be part of the Latinx Theater Symposium at UMass Amherst April 8- Image courtesy UMass Amherst Theater Department

UMass Theater Professor Milan Dragicevich, seated alone and facing students, is directing a new version of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night.” 

UMass Theater Professor Milan Dragicevich, seated alone and facing students, is directing a new version of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night.”  Image courtesy UMass Amherst Theater Department

By STEVE PFARRER

Staff Writer

Published: 04-11-2024 6:28 PM

April is shaping up to be a busy month for the University of Massachusetts Theater Department, beginning with a symposium that honors Latinx theater and closing with a fresh interpretation of a classic Shakespeare comedy.

On April 8-9, theater scholars, writers, and performers staged “Building Bridges As We Walk: A Latinx/Latine Theater Symposium,” a series of acting workshops, panel discussions, and a staged reading that are designed to recognize the recent publication of a major compendium of Latinx theater scholarship, “The Routledge Companion to Latine Theatre and Performance.”

The symposium was organized by two UMass theater professors, Elisa Gonzales and Priscilla Page, who are among 50 contributors to the book, a work that Page, in a statement, called “an encyclopedic resource” with a “brilliant and encompassing vision.”

Gonzales and Page invited the book’s contributors — many are leading Latine theater and performance scholars and practitioners in the U.S. — to campus to discuss theater built around “evolving and recurring strategies of world making, activism, and resistance taken by Latine culture makers to gain political agency on and off the stage,” as publisher’s notes put it.

One critic calls the book “a treasury of insights into contemporary Latine theatre,” with essays and other works that examine “Latine theatrical practices that reflect on and refract contemporary debates about identity, politics and culture.”

The symposium also featured selected readings from plays written by book contributors; a staged reading of a new play by UMass MFA student Pedro Eiras; and a keynote address by Jorge Huerta, a Latine theater scholar, artist, and educator from California.

Meanwhile, the university’s Theater Department is preparing for an April 26 opening of a new adaptation of “Twelfth Night,” one of Shakespeare’s most notable comedies, in which the twins Viola and Sebastian are separated after a shipwreck on the coast of Illyria, the ancient name for the land along the Balkan coast along the Adriatic Sea.

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It’s a classic story of mistaken identity, in which Viola and Sebastian both believe their twin is dead. Viola, trying to save herself, dresses as her brother and is soon working for Duke Orsino, with whom she falls in love. But even as Viola helps the duke court another woman, Olivia, Orsino falls in love with Viola instead.

The production is directed by UMass Theater Professor Milan Dragicevich, who according to production notes has mixed “Shakespeare’s Elizabethan spirit and style with contemporary, playful pop-arty sensibilities.”

That’s not all: Tim Eriksen, the Amherst multi-instrumentalist, composer, and ethnomusicologist, is creating music for this version of “Twelfth Night.”

Eriksen has earned widespread attention for reviving and reinterpreting older music traditions, including Shape note singing, a community style of music popular in 19th century America. Among a number of projects, he was a performer and consultant for the award-winning soundtrack for the 2003 film “Cold Mountain.”

It’s the second time Eriksen has joined forces with Dragicevich; they worked together on the New England premiere and an international tour of the latter’s play “Refugee,” a drama about different generations of a family whose lives are upended by war, in 2016 to 2018.

Their “Twelfth Night,” which is choreographed by Antonia Araya Budnik, will be staged at the Rand Theater, in the Bromery Center for the Arts, on April 26-27 and May 2-4 at 7:30 p.m.; a May 4 matinee takes place at 2 p.m.

Tickets range from $17 to $5 and can be purchased by visiting fac.umass/edu and following the link for the Theater Department, or by calling 1-800-999-UMAS. Tickets can also be purchased at the door on the night of the show.