Executive Director John Alexander takes a calculated risk with the company’s latest, “Learn to be Latina.”
By Anthony King | GSD Editor
Choosing to stage “Learn to be Latina” as the next production in Diversionary Theatre’s season was one Executive Director John Alexander did not take lightly. The play, written by emerging playwright Enrique Urueta, leaves no stereotype untouched in its “bitingly satirical and decidedly politically incorrect” themes, as a press release stated. Alexander decided it was a risk worth taking.
“There’s a lot of really shocking, raw language and scenery and imagery in the play,” Alexander said, but “it all has a purpose. Enrique is making a point with every word.”
“Learn to be Latina” is the story of an up-and-coming pop star in Los Angeles, forced to hide her Lebanese heritage—and her lesbian lifestyle—to please record executives, become famous and make money. In the process, the record label takes advantage of what they perceive to be the singer’s Latina looks, sending her through a Latin boot camp that would make even the not-so politically correct blush.
And it is all done on purpose. In fact, for Urueta, every word and jarring stereotype in the play is intentional. “I wanted to offend people,” he said about writing the play, “…because nine times out of 10, when I go to the theater or when I’m watching TV… I’m offended.”
Urueta, however, is offended by something other than racist language or mocking stereotypes.
“I’m offended by this notion that there are only certain narratives worth telling,” the playwright said. “There is an element of racism and misogyny and class dynamics that go into what gets picked to go on the stage and what stories are allowed to be told.” Most of those stories, he said, do not speak to him.
“Enrique has definitely expanded my personal comfort zone,” Alexander said. “That’s what I want to see on stage. I want to give people like Enrique a voice.” Giving Urueta a voice because of his ethnic background as well as his status as an emerging artist fit in line with Alexander’s vision for the theater company.
“I see Diversionary’s role as nurturing new playwrights [and] giving people like Enrique an opportunity to really develop their new work and to get on stage,” Alexander said.
This is the first full season for Alexander at Diversionary, who took over as executive director mid-July. He came to Diversionary from a managing director position at the off-Broadway company Naked Angels, as well as previously working for the North Shore Music Theatre in Boston, Mass. and San Diego’s Old Globe. Alexander’s ties to the San Diego community extend beyond theater, as he served as the first executive director of Mama’s Kitchen.
“One of the things that I heard a lot in my interviews in coming to take the job,” Alexander said, was “the search committee was very specifically looking for someone who was going to broaden what Diversionary does beyond the white, gay, male audience.”
Alexander said he also hears people, including a former board member of Diversionary, say they do not see themselves in the productions, a sentiment he said motivated Urueta in writing “Learn to Be Latina.”
“That was a very important reason why I wanted this play,” Alexander said. “Not only does it open raw some of the silly things going on, but I wanted people other than white, gay males to see themselves on stage,” he added.
In their marketing and promotion, Diversionary reached out to many groups, including Latina Studies programs as well as women in general. Alexander says advance ticket sales for the entire run are high, with “noticeably more women” calling than the company is used to.
That is not to say it has not been a struggle for Alexander to connect with a different audience. “In some ways,” he said, “people still tend to collect in their own little comfort groups… It can be really hard to break into those comfort groups and try to say, ‘Hey, we want to have you here too. We want you a part of our dialogue. We want you to see yourself on stage,’” he said.
“Our mission will never change, but how we fulfill our mission has to change because, fortunately, we live in a world where we’re not the only company doing plays by and about LGBT,” Alexander said. “That’s a good thing.”
Urueta’s “Learn to Be Latina” opens at Diversionary Theatre, 4545 Park Blvd. on Nov. 19 and runs through Dec. 18. For times and ticket information, including a special ‘Gal Pal Friday’ preview on Nov. 18, visit diversionary.org or call (619) 220-0097.