Founded in 1985 by Cora Cardona and Jeff Hurst to produce international work and champion local Latinx artists, Teatro Dallas has long focused on using the power of theater to foster increased understanding of both cultural similarities and differences to build a sense of community that celebrates diverse traditions. Especially committed to the cultural empowerment of the Latinx communities in Dallas, they aim to represent the varied experiences, voices, and aesthetic expressions of this community through theater productions for youth and adults.
Where – in what community – do you primarily do your work?
Teatro Dallas works with marginalized communities in Dallas, Texas, primarily Latinx, and frequently neighborhoods that have experienced poverty or rapid gentrification. Our current work is focused in West Dallas, Oak Cliff, and Pleasant Grove. We work with communities that have been "voiceless" to the mainstream, either because of language, economic barriers, age and/or culture.
What gets you going each day and inspires your current work?
The joy of physical, human connectivity which is regenerative, healing, and creative. Teatro Dallas believes in the power of the roots of theater which is to reveal hidden narratives, dissolve physical barriers between individuals by creating an atmosphere of shared energy. We use methodologies of performance to affirm the lives of each individual.
Right now, Teatro Dallas is inviting guest artists to lead residents from our communities in group activities that feature vocal work, movement exercises, improvisation exercises, breathing techniques, and creative storytelling as a way of creating trust. Participants can explore how the human body carries a history of daily experiences that, when noted and released, can diffuse the accumulation of micro-aggressions and tension.
When you work in your community, what are the most valuable assets of the community that you experience aside from real estate and money?
We see that human creative capital in the community is invaluable, but in communities struggling with poverty or lack of access to resources human and cultural assets are often neglected. We help un-tap and explore the individual skills, stories, and ideas that often remain undervalued.
Since our theater is comprised of professional artists, we like to model how art can be transformative by acting as a conduit and helping residents of underserved communities see themselves as a repository for culture and history. Teatro Dallas recently conducted a workshop in geriatric theater with seniors at Wesley Rankin Community Center. The residents are mostly Latino and as they have experienced linguistic discrimination, they have occulted many songs, stories, and anecdotes from their English speaking families. Our lead artist, Zaida Martinez helped residents work together to create theatrical pieces based on personal anecdotes and set to songs they had not shared before. Families were invited to an inter-generational lunch in which the workshopped stories were narrated communally through song and movement.
How does your artistic practice inform and/or is integrated into your enterprise?
Teatro Dallas artists are trained in techniques that emphasize working with the body and voice. We value the physical power of the individual over scripts or pre-determined texts to create theater. With movement, vocal work, music, and interdisciplinary workshop methods, we create performances. Through our classes, our performers and teachers have gained the skills to become facilitators to help others find their voice and tell their stories. We believe performance comes in many forms, and the dissolution between “audience” and participant creates experiences that can be cathartic and empowering.
What is the impact of your work on your community? Today? Over a long period of time?
As human relationships become increasingly disembodied through digital technologies, the importance of recalibrating our connections to ourselves and to one another by affirming the power of our physical experiences is becoming ever-more necessary. The most vulnerable communities are those that lack wellness resources reinforcing healthy lifestyles. Teatro Dallas has based its work on evidence that physical, relational connections reduce anxiety, depression, and violence, all of which are frequently found in communities of color. We seek to model the process of healing techniques in a way that connects diverse individuals and ages and therefore we believe it can have a generational impact.
The Nitty Gritty
When was your organization or project founded?
What is your staffing situation like?
Teatro Dallas has three full-time staff: an Executive Director, Artistic Director, and Managing Director. Additionally, we bring resident artists to work within the communities we serve. These include artists from other countries, such as Mexico, Venezuela, Brazil, and Colombia. We also employ ten lead instructors trained to provide workshops.
What is your annual budget?
Our annual operating budget as a theater is about $400,000 (including performances, workshops, classes, touring shows, etc)