The Latin Theater Initiatives student organization at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley will be opening their stage to Mexican theater companies on Saturday — an event that the group’s founding adviser, Eric Wiley, said is a reflection of one of the university’s core missions.
“The whole concept of our school then, which is still true today, was that our campus was supposed to embrace both Latin America and U.S. cultures, and act as a conduit or middle person,” Wiley said of UTRGV in 1999, his first year as a theater professor there.
“And for Mexican American theater, I don’t think there is a better place really to have it.”
To commemorate the group’s 10th anniversary on Saturday, LTI will be hosting Primer Festival Internacional de Teatro Latino del Valley — the first theater festival that the university has ever hosted.
Taking place at the south Liberal Arts Building in the school’s Edinburg campus, two theater companies from Reynosa, and another from Monterrey, are set to take the Studio Theater’s stage.
Reynosa company Teatro Tomás Urtusástegui will put on “Niñas de la Guerra,” a children’s play, at 2 p.m. Then, the shows “Contiene Tamarindo” and “La Raiz de las Delicias,” which are slated for 5:30 and 9 p.m. respectively, are for attendees 14 and under only. All shows will be in Spanish.
A panel discussion with six theater representatives — three local representatives, and three from Mexico — will be moderated by Silvia Vera, a local theater teacher, at 3:30 p.m.
Since 2010, members of LTI have traveled across the country to attend theater festivals. Last year, they attended festivals in St. Louis, Missouri, and New York City. In reflecting on the past decade as an organization, Wiley said that they asked themselves: “Why don’t we put one on?”
“We go to these festivals and have always talked about how we wanted to do one, so that is what we are doing now,” said Wiley, who is teaching acting, dramatic literature and theater history courses this semester.
“Chicago has a Latino theater festival, but we don’t need to go to them for a Latino festival. We don’t need to go to L.A., or Houston or Austin or anywhere else — we can do our own festival, and it can be international.”
The most renown production of LTI is “Crawling with Monsters Now,” an award-winning stage documentary set in Reynosa, written by Wiley, who obtained a master’s degree in playwriting from the University of Texas at Austin. The show received the Overall Excellence Award at the New York International Fringe Festival in 2011, and Best of Show at the Houston Fringe Festival in 2012.
Since then, the group has been invited across the country to perform the show. Later this month, LTI will be taking their first trip outside of the country to Bogata, Colombia, where they will perform two shows, including “Crawling with Monsters Now.”
Wiley was born in New York and moved around the East Coast while growing up. His passion for theater sparked while playing a part of a stream at 5 years old at summer camp in New Jersey. And, after moving to Edinburg about two decades ago, he is confident that the Rio Grande Valley can be a spotlight for Latin theater.
“We think that UTRGV and LTI should be the leader in Latino theater in the region, in the nation,” he said. “We have the students, the actors, designers — we have everything we need to do theater in either Spanish or English.
“I think that the RGV and UTRGV can be a major force nationally (in the theater industry), I really do.”