Awakening the people

Teatro del Pueblo overcomes apathy and brings the secret wars home

Claire Joseph

It took a visit to Ireland to open a local director’s eyes to the importance of the political situation in Latin America.

In an interview with A&E, Al Justiniano, the Teatro del Pueblo artistic director, said the idea for a political theater festival came to him when he was visiting Ireland. Ironically, while talking to Irish pub patrons, Justiniano said, he realized his own knowledge of Latin American politics wasn’t up to snuff.

Teatro del Pueblo, a St. Paul theater company that features Latino culture and talent, is co-hosting the fourth annual Political Theatre Festival, a marathon of plays that emphasize Latin American politics.

“After talking about our politics, (the pub-goers and I) realized that they know more about our politics than I do. And that’s embarrassing,” Justiniano said.

So his Teatro del Pueblo teamed up with Intermedia Arts and Resource Center of the Americas to get people communicating about Latin American political issues.

To come up with ideas for the plays, the festival sponsors commissioned stories from people in Latin America who have something to say about the politics in their particular country.

Although the various plays do present opinions on matters of political debate, the goal is to foster communication about issues people might not be talking about, Justiniano said. For example, after each performance, there will be an opportunity for audience members to discuss the issues presented in the play.

“The plays are catalysts to get people excited about the theme,” Justiniano said.

Each play highlights the personal experiences and obstacles facing individuals.

“It’s always about the universal theme of the oppressed and the oppressor,” he said.

Justiniano said that although the plays concern the specific struggles of Latin Americans, all viewers can identify with oppression and political injustice in some form.

Sometimes, it takes an outsider to clarify what’s wrong in your own community. Once you figure it out, though, the key is to communicate and spread your knowledge, Justiniano said.

“It’s a challenge, to tell you the truth. It’s not easy,” he said.