Lucia Miranda and The Cross Border Project
Lucia and I met in 2009 as graduate students at NYU, sharing friendship and a passion for theater as a tool for expression, education and social change. We began working together when Lucia asked if I could support From Fuente Ovejuna to Ciudad Juarez by incorporating El Paso/Juarez language to the text adaptation. I immediately said yes, feeling that this creative process was deeply invested in depicting femicide in Juarez accurately and respectfully, rather than using US/Mexico border violence as a hot button or aesthetically exploratory issue. Fuente Ovejuna was also an opportunity to give an empowered representation to border women or fronterizas like me, the women in my family and the countless murdered and/or missing in Juarez. While supporting the development and successful production of From Fuente Ovejuna to Ciudad Juarez at Thalía Spanish Theater in Queens, I grew close with the creative team of the project and witnessed the birth of the Cross Border Project.
Since From Fuente Ovejuna to Ciudad Juarez, Lucia has watered and tended to the vision of the Cross Border Project, which has now become one of Madrid’s youngest yet strongest theater companies. Today the Cross Border Project is a theater company, a school and a kitchen for creating new projects, and it always has pots boiling on the stove. Its collective of multifaceted actors/educators manifest the company’s investment in creating quality artistic work while building caring and responsible relationships with the communities they work with and perform for.
From the moment I applied for the Jerome Foundation, I was excited for the opportunity to reunite with Lucia and collaborate the Cross Border Project again. This vision manifested on August 2, 2015 when I arrived in Madrid to be fully embraced by the company and immediately taken on one of their many summer adventures, la Fabrica de Cambios in Rioseco.
Rioseco – Fabrica de cambios August
"Fábrica de Cambios" en Medina de Rioseco was a meet-up of approximately 32 participants, 18 coordinators-facilitators and local residents to exchange community building and educational theater techniques focused on arts as a tool for social transformation. The Encuentro was collectively organized by the Cross Border Project, Jugar y Actuar, PETA (Philippine Educational Theater Association) and La Mancha (Uruguay). During three days, the Encuentro consisted of workshops facilitated by each of these organizations and shared spaces for networking among artists/educators and building with the local community.
A key component of the Encuentro was integrating residents of Rioseco into the art education workshop process as well as having conference participants learn from the local community. Part of the goal in this exchange was to build on creative ideas and practices that would culminate to a final showcase for the community. Among local participants were teens, middle-aged adults and elder women that made the experience that much more fun and inter-generational. Not only did community members have the opportunity to gain from the visit of artists into their city but we had the opportunity to learn first hand whether/if/how art can have an impact in the communities we enter.
One of many exceptional aspects of the Encuentro to me was the relationship between conference coordinators and local political leaders of Rioseco, who granted us access to city buildings, businesses and streets as our workshop and meeting spaces. It was almost surreal to see local leaders having enough respect and trust for young artists to allow them to coordinate an educational theater conference involving their entire suburb. I had never witnessed anything like that in the United States, where young artists and educators are painfully underestimated. We often must depend on people in “positions of power”, who might not necessarily have time or maybe interest to organize educational theater events like these. The possibilities that these types of collaborations can manifest are infinite and it was wonderful to witness it in Rioseco.
Another highlight of the Encuentro for me was performing a short excerpt of One Journey as a springboard to introducing my study of the Spain/Morocco border. During the “Open Space” of the Encuentro participants had the opportunity to facilitate workshops as a means to provide more examples of theater as a tool for social change. In response to the performance excerpt, attendees expressed Spain’s general disconnection and avoidance of the Spain/Morocco border topic. They explained that this was because of the physical land separation and distance between the peninsula and the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla on the African continent. Their general avoidance was also because it is heavy topic that not everyone is ready to discuss for fear of addressing the social and political ills that imply Spain’s responsibility within Europe and Africa’s border and immigration conflicts. The room later erupted into conversation about cultural and political differences within Spaniards themselves, based on region, language and political ideology, something I would further understand during the rest of my visit. Overall, it was a blessing to begin the conversation that brought me to Spain and to have received tremendous support from socially conscious artists and educators through Fábrica de Cambios.
The second major event that I accompanied the Cross Border Project to was FiraTàrrega, an international market for performing arts that takes place every year in Tàrrega during the second weekend in September. Founded in 1981, it FiraTàrrega is a shop window of what is going on in performing arts, with special emphasis on street arts, visual and unconventional shows. This festival of performance takes over the small town of Tàrrega for 3 full days and brings thousands of national audiences to enjoy free street performances as well as some paid theater shows.
On this trip, I was part of the Cross Border Project cast for their Forum Theater play entitled ¿Qué hacemos con la abuela? or What shall we do with grandma?, which we performed at an outdoor central plaza with audiences as large as 500+ people. ¿Qué hacemos con la abuela? addresses the caretakers of elders with Alzheimer’s. Through the use of light-hearted comedy and drama we witness the challenges of a family that must reach a compromise of how to take equal responsibility for the care of their grandmother. After establishing the circumstances and each character’s perspective of this conflict, Lucia as facilitator invites the audience to participate in the discussion by entering the scene as spect- actors. Spect-actors in Forum Theater refers to audience members taking the place of a character in the play who has agency to change the conflict by carrying out a different approach. Forum Theater is one of three branches of Theatre of the Oppressed, which was founded in Brazil by the late Augusto Boal.
I, like many people in the audience, could relate to the play and appreciated the effectiveness of Forum Theater as a means to discuss personal, family and societal values that influence how we care for our elders. Audiences were deeply moved by the play to a point of sharing personal and emotionally raw experiences, which we rarely see in such large public spaces. In response to the lack of sensitivity and care towards the grandmother in the play, people came forward with tremendous support, compassion and responsibility towards elders who depend on our care. What I witnessed was a collective and empathetic reevaluation of how we see and care for our elders who are important members of our families and society, which is a beautiful use of theater.
In addition to performing, we also got to see several international performances that were part of the festival. Each of these performances exposed me to different cultural and aesthetic approaches to theater and story telling that I would not have otherwise been known about without attending FiraTarrega.
The Cross Border Collective
Working with the Cross Border Company, I got to witness the collective dynamic that makes them strong from the inside out. First and foremost, I observed that the level of honesty, transparency, respect, attention and care towards one another sustains them personally and professionally. Even during challenging moments that inevitably show up for such a busy theater company, members assessed and discussed creative ways of resolving issues positively and productively. Take this protocol and multiply it by the size of each challenge they encounter at every logistical and professional level and you will have the Cross Border Company. As they would say, “This dynamic doesn’t come about naturally or miraculously, we work very hard at it.”
There is a lot more I can and will say about the Cross Border Company as I continue to process this experience and generate work from it. For now, I feel incredibly blessed to have worked with them. I have immense respect and love for my compañera or colega as Lucia calls me. She is a force to recon with, which is one of many reasons I enjoy working with her. Through Lucia I’ve witnessed how everything is possible when you do it with complete resolve and at the highest caliber you envision. She has a sharp eye for both the business terrain and theater network that she strategically navigates as a professional company director. Lucia also values every relationship she makes with a high level of respect and care, which is reciprocated as collaboration and support. The Cross Border Project’s dedication to theatrically representing stories that are high in artistic quality as well as in socially relevant content brings audiences back to them in every city they have toured.