Myrna Salazar was in Houston the day I talked to her by phone, with a lot to worry about. She has family in Puerto Rico—including her mother, whom, she said, she was trying to get off the hurricane-devastated island. She was also less than a week away from opening a brand-new theater festival.
A former talent agent who spent four years as development and marketing director at the International Latino Cultural Center of Chicago (the organization behind the Chicago Latino Film Festival), Salazar currently runs the Chicago Latino Theater Alliance, which she helped found last year. That makes her the point person for CLATA’s first major project: the Chicago International Latino Theater Festival, running September 29 through October 28 at various venues and featuring a total of 11 productions from Puerto Rico, Mexico, Cuba, Colombia, and New York, as well as Chicago.
According to Salazar, the impulse for starting CLATA emerged from a frustrating professional episode. “A young playwright had just written a play about his own experiences as an undocumented worker in the restaurants in Chicago,” she recalls. “He came to me see if I could raise some funds.” When she failed despite her experience and connections, she “saw the great need there might be in Chicago for emerging artists and playwrights . . . to have access to funding.”
Salazar considers the festival a practical way to fulfill that need, and she’s frank about her intent: more than exhibiting foreign shows, she hopes to connect local audiences with local Latino companies, four of which have work on the schedule. (A fifth, Teatro Luna, was born here but travels now.) “I want [audiences] to be engaged,” she states. “I want them to buy their tickets.”
“We are very new, this has been moving quite rapidly—and I’m scared!” Salazar says of the festival from her room in Houston. But she’s laughing as she says it.
Chicago Latino Theater Festival 9/29-10/28: various times and locations, clata.org, $15-$25.