Reclaiming Roots: Sin Muros Theatre Festival Puts Queer Latinx Talent Center Stage

A photo of Josh Inocéncio performing Purple Eyes at Sin Muros Latino Theatre Festival.
Houston playwright Josh Inocéncio dissects ancestral machismo and explores his identity as a gay Latino in his play, ‘Purple Eyes,’ which headlines the Sin Muros Theatre Festival on February 1-4.
Photo courtesy Josh Inocéncio.

Editor’s Note: Please join us on Friday, February 2 for a special Spectrum South Night during the Sin Muros Theatre Festival. Spectrum South readers can also save $5 on tickets to the festival performances of Purple Eyes by using the promo code SPECTRUMSOUTH during online checkout.

By Barrett White

Texas Latinx talent takes center stage this February 1 through 4 at Houston’s Stages Repertory Theatre during the inaugural Sin Muros Theatre Festival. Headlining this four-day event is the world premiere of the ancestral autobiography Purple Eyes, written and performed by queer Latino playwright Josh Inocéncio. Inocéncio, who is also a member of the Sin Muros task force committee, speaks on the festival’s intent. “We were looking to consciously represent diversity. A Latin theatre festival that pushes for female voices, queer voices, et cetera, who are all consciously included,” Inocéncio says, noting that his own show, which deals with the dissection of machismo and the exploration of his gay Latino identity through the lens of his male ancestors, is a big move for queer representation within Houston’s theatre scene.

Houston is the largest city in the southern U.S. and, by many accounts, the most diverse. The Bayou City is also home to the second largest number of theatre seats in the nation. However, while the diverse voices in the city’s arts scene are prominent and celebrated, they are few and far between. “In Texas, the high school arts programs are actually pretty good,” Inocéncio explains. “The breakdown is that many people leave to New York or Los Angeles to pursue their creative goals afterward. With Sin Muros, our big goals are to create more sustainable opportunities for artists in Texas, writers in particular. There are so many people of diverse backgrounds in Houston, but they are still marginalized and not well represented.”

A photo of Josh Inocéncio performing Purple Eyes at Sin Muros Latino Theatre Festival.

Josh Inocéncio performs in ‘Purple Eyes.’ Photo courtesy Josh Inocéncio.

Sin Muros started as a humble idea in the winter of 2016. Shortly after its conception, Stages Theatre’s veteran artistic director, Kenn McLaughlin, reached out to Inocéncio to join the task force, aiming to build a team of Houston Latino voices to help bring the festival to fruition. The pair had an impassioned conversation about Purple Eyes headlining the festival and, before long, Inocéncio (who is also a teaching artist at the Alley Theatre) found himself offering to conduct writing workshops as a part of Sin Muros. “The workshops will be centered on high school-aged students,” he says. “I’ll share the process I used to write Purple Eyes for the students to create their own 10-minute solo plays using the ancestral autobiography format.”

Also among the festival’s talent is Tanya Saracho, a queer native of the Texas-Mexico border whose writing credits include television’s Looking, Girls, and How to Get Away with Murder. A prolific writer of stage and screen, Saracho will premiere a reading of her brandnew play, Songs for the Disappeared, as part of Sin Muros. “First of all, the title of the festival is great,” Saracho begins with a chuckle. “It’s become so normal to bring voices and work from Texas to places like Chicago and Los Angeles—it’s so cool to actually work in Texas.”

A photo of playwright Tanya Saracho who will perform at Sin Muros Latino Theatre Festival.

“In both TV and theatre, [female, Latinx, and queer culture] is not well represented. We’re here to fight erasure because these stories are worth being told.” -Tanya Saracho. Photo courtesy Tanya Saracho.

After her parent’s divorce, Saracho’s childhood was split between Reynosa, Mexico and McAllen, Texas—experiences she drew upon for Songs. In her play, a border town familyincluding a businessman, his trophy wife, an animal lover, and a writer chasing dreams in Chicagomust set aside differences to search for the son who has gone missing at the border. Saracho’s own family faced similar fears when her youngest brother came face-to-face with the cartel at a border town nightclub. Luckily, the situation did not become aggravated and the younger Saracho made it home without incident. “It was just an eye-opener,” Saracho says. “It just went to show that this was no longer the border we knew growing up.”

Saracho has a long history with the stage. In Chicago, she was the mastermind behind The Ñ Series, a year-round creative forum for Latinx-identified artists in a safe “amongst family” setting. “We had no budget and I paid my creatives with pizza and beer—but hey, we filled the theatre!” Saracho laughs. She also worked with the Alliance of Latinx Theatre Artists (ALTA), a theatre community that gives Latinx artists agency in the Midwest theatre scene, and founded Teatro Luna, a national ensemble of Latinx and women of color artists who create original performances and produce multi-genre events with a social justice purpose—an organization she led for more than a decade, and to which Saracho credits all of her showrunning skills.

Although she is no longer based in Texas, Saracho is still actively working to increase representation and opportunities for Latinx talent. Saracho’s newest project, Vida, will premiere on Starz in May 2018. With mostly Latinx writers and cast members, the television show will portray two sisters’ lives in Los Angeles through the Latinx gaze—a perspective drastically underrepresented in the mainstream. She’s also in the process of developing another TV show, entitled Brujas, that follows four Afro-Caribbean/Latinx women and explores “the relationships and community born out of the growing identification with the Bruja movement.”

“In both TV and theatre, [female, Latinx, and queer culture] is not well represented,” Saracho adds. “We’re here to fight erasure because these stories are worth being told.”

What: Sin Muros: A Latino/a Theatre Festival
When: February 1 through 4 (Spectrum South Night will be held on February 2).
Where: Stages Repertory Theatre, 3201 Allen Parkway, Suite 101, Houston, Texas
Details/Tickets: Spectrum South Night at Sin Muros will take place on Friday, February 2. Use promo code SPECTRUMSOUTH to save $5 on tickets to the festival performances of Purple Eyes. All other festival readings and workshops are free and open to the public. Click here for the full festival lineup and to purchase tickets.

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1 Comment

  • Reply
    Adán Medrano
    February 5, 2018 at 10:26 AM

    Hi, Barrett.
    Went to see “Soul On Sale,” because it is the play that Stages Repertory Theatre chose to launch its new “Latina/o Theatre Festival.”
    As a launching pad for “stories of the Latina/o community,” in what sense can one consider “Soul On Sale” to express Latina, Latino aesthetic considerations?

    From where I sat, I endured yet another non-Latina, non-Latino playwright telling his own take about art, and thinking that it can be authentically Latina/o by marshalling out a tortilla as a prop and singing in Spanish with jarring anglo accents.
    The actors were wonderful, though, so kudos to the cast, especially the masterful Luis Galindo who plays Arcadio.

    I urge everyone to support this Stages step and to attend and cheer next year’s festival. With poetry readings, new play readings and other events, the festival opens up exciting windows into current Houston and Texas Latina work. Stages thus at long last is following in the footsteps pioneered by the true champions of Houston Latino/a Theatre: MECA Houston Tx, Talento Bilingue De Houston, Cara Mia Theatre Co. and others.

    BTW: The Alley Theatre is also imitating the work of Latina/o Houston Teatro leaders with their version of Latino Theatre Festival: a play that performs in various sites, with ancillary events. Houston Latino/a Teatro leaders are supporting the Alley’s efforts, in a show of generosity.

    I think it’s great that both Stages and The Alley are attempting to enter into the work of Houston’s Latina/Latino theatre leaders who for decades have explored the many facets of Latina/o Houston Theatre, with very little support from city coffers and foundations. The work of Stages and Alley will be stronger once they have truly Latino/a voices calling the shots.

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