Ana Santos stars in La Gran Tirana: Descarga Dramática, presented by Aguijón Theater as part of the Destinos festival. Credit: Courtesy Aguijón Theater

By definition, futurology is the study of current trends, the findings of which can be used to forecast future developments. It’s also a schema that applies perfectly to this current, uncertain era of Chicago theater, and one that is the driving ethos behind Teatro Vista’s 30th season, the first to be helmed by the company’s new co-artistic directors Lorena Diaz and Wendy Mateo

The first two episodes of The Fifth World, Teatro Vista’s new true-crime audio serial play, are the latest and final addition to the lineup of this year’s Destinos: Chicago International Latino Theater Festival, which begins September 23 and will continue through October 17.

Now entering its fourth year, Destinos is the signature program of the Chicago Latino Theater Alliance (CLATA), a ​​nonprofit arts organization that aims to showcase and elevate the work of existing and new U.S. Latino playwrights, actors, and directors primarily in Chicago, along with national and international counterparts. 

There are a total of six Chicago productions in this year’s Destinos lineup, a mix of regional and world premieres, in addition to four out-of-town performances. The lineup launches with American Mariachi, the midwest premiere of José Cruz González’s play about an all-women mariachi band, presented by the Goodman Theatre. The world premiere of Teatro Tariakuri’s La manera como luces esta noche follows next on September 25. 

This is the first Destinos that Teatro Tariakuri has been included in, says Karla Galván, the company’s executive director. Originally established in Chicago’s Marquette Park in 2004, Teatro Tariakuri is an educational Latino theater company that is fully Spanish speaking, and it remains the first and only theater in the Marquette neighborhood. 

“We’ve opened doors to so many talents on the southwest side of Chicago, which is amazing for the company itself,” Galván says. “We’ve worked so hard as a company to get to where we’re at now. Just the fact that we’re the little underdogs, and [CLATA’s] actually looking at us and accepting our work . . . I am so grateful. I am very proud and so excited. This is our first year and I hope we give it our best and I hope that our audience, as much as CLATA, embraces our work.”

Jose Fresh plays Ubalda in La manera come luces esta noche, presented by Teatro Tariakuri as part of Destinos. Courtesy Teatro Tariakuri.

La manera como luces esta noche is a comedic fairy tale for adults, written by Alejandro Licona, that Galván describes as classical and Shakespearean meets slapstick, “picardía Mexicana” humor, “which is that spiciness of the Mexican comedy,” she says. “So it is raw. That’s what attracts my audience to come learn about theater. It is dirty, it is raw, and people who come in will enjoy it.” 

On October 10 and 11 at the Chopin Theatre, Destinos audiences will be the first to hear the first two episodes of The Fifth World, written by Gabriel Ruiz and presented in English with sprinkles of Spanish, before its official premiere on October 28. In addition to premiering the first two episodes of the serial during Destinos, Diaz and Mateo will be announcing the new season of work for Teatro Vista.

“What we’re doing is really moving the theater company from just live stage theater to multimedia content using theater as a process,” Mateo says. 

“We thought [futurology] was such a wonderful way to encompass what we are doing here,” Diaz says. “It’s a new time of creating art—what does that look like, and what is it that we’re going to be moving forward with into the future? I see a lot of companies dabbling and playing with this, but the key is going to be in what works for the audience.”

After 30 years cultivating a presence in Chicago, Teatro Vista’s goal is to expand to a degree where it can continue to serve as an “incubator for young and experienced, Latine and non-Latine talent,” says ensemble member Cruz Gonzalez-Cadel.

“We contain multitudes amongst our ensemble in terms of culture and race and ethnicity. I think our dream is to be that incubator where people can come and learn new things so that we can go out and bring those learnings into the Chicago theater community as a whole, to bigger houses and primarily white institutions, so we can show them a different way to elevate artists of color and to put them at the forefront of the stories.”

It is a goal very much in line with that of CLATA’s own future plans, which in the most immediate include fundraising for a performance venue that can house local Latino theater companies, “especially since many of them are itinerant,” says Sara Carranza, CLATA’s digital media manager. “Many of them don’t have a theater that houses more than 50 seats.” 

Destinos: Chicago International Latino Theater Festival
9/23-10/17: various locations and times; see festival website for complete schedule of performances.

The rest of the Destinos lineup of live and hybrid performances includes productions hailing from theaters—established and storefront—across the city, including UrbanTheater Company’s Brujaja by Melissa DuPrey, “a story about sisters who practice Santería, [which] has a very negative stigma, but is older than Christianity,” says the company’s artistic director, Miranda González. 

“There’s such a very large diaspora of Latinx theater, and [UrbanTheater] placates more to the Black and Indigenous who are centered within our community,” González says. “We are a decolonized theater, all of our processes and everything we do is decolonized art, and we challenge the Eurocentric way of making that. [Santería] was a precolonial religious way in Africa that was brought over by the slaves. It’s very prominent and prevalent within the Latinx community and the world at large.”

Aguijón Theater is presenting an homage to La Lupe, the Queen of Latin Soul, with the world premiere of La Gran Tirana: Descarga Dramática, written by Rey Andújar. Visión Latino Theatre Company (which is also making their Destinos debut this year) is presenting the world premiere of Y tú abuela, where is she? by Nelson Diaz-Marcano, in which an interracial couple is presented with the chance to alter their unborn child’s genes—as well as choose its skin color. Additionally, there are participating visiting companies from as far as Miami, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic. 

“Just as important as it is for us to export our Chicago stories, it is also equally important to make sure we import the stories from Latin America, because we need to show the folks that live [in Chicago] that we have more similarities than we do differences with our brothers and sisters across borders,” Carranza says. 

A full third of Chicago’s population is Latino, primarily Mexican and Puerto Rican, and yet—nationwide—the city is rarely recognized as a core epicenter of the Latino diaspora. For the most part, Hollywood always shows the U.S. Latino existence as either a border experience or something concentrated on the West Coast or the East Coast, says Carranza.

“They seem to forget that we have a very huge community here in the midwest,” she continues. “So that’s one of the reasons why it’s so important to have a festival like we have here in the midwest—it’s really the only one of its kind in this location. By highlighting our local companies, we are trying to get these Chicago voices out and heard and seen, because in the meantime, you’re only going to hear about the coasts and all of these generations of stories are going to be missed if we don’t have something as big as Destinos to tell those stories.”