Entering the Reyes household, there are colorful walls plastered with various Virgin of Guadalupe paintings, a backyard with types of plants and pottery and two pets walking around. When Rupert and JoAnn Reyes aren’t taking care of their grandchildren, they’re running Teatro Vivo, a theatre company where Latinos come together to create and perform bilingual plays for the Austin community.
Story by Vianney Torres
Photos by Emily Nash and Mia Uhunmwuagho
Couple Rupert and JoAnn Reyes created Teatro Vivo nearly 15 years ago as a theatre company that focused on Latino culture. Since then, the company has produced over 24 full-length productions and has gone on to earn both local and statewide recognition.
Rupert, who serves as the creative director, says that one of the goals of Teatro Vivo is to present theatre to people who don’t necessarily have access to it. “We try to serve the Latino community, but by doing so we open the window to other people who want to experience it,” he says.
Latin representation, according to Rupert, plays a vital role in Teatro Vivo since many television shows and movies tend to disregard Latin characters or stereotype them. “Latinos are often viewed as either labor workers, drug pushers, and in the words of Donald Trump, ‘rapists and murderers’ — so now is the time more than ever to represent Latinos everywhere through Theatre,” he explains.
JoAnn says the company is dedicated to artistically expanding its horizons for Latinos and creating a family feel for the audience to enjoy.
Teatro Vivo’s first show, “Petra’s Pecado” (Petra’s Mortal Sin), debuted in 2000 at several small theaters across Austin and received a highly positive response from those who watched. Since then, the company has been dedicated to producing mostly new shows.
The company’s productions range from comedy to drama, but all focus on delivering a message and connecting to the Latino community. One play in particular, “Confessions of a Mexpatriate,” tells the story of a young Latino traveling to Mexico in an effort to find his roots. After a failed trip, he is torn between figuring out which culture he identifies with since he doesn’t particularly feel at home in either Mexico or America. “The play resonated with a lot of the Latino audience members who too have been in the same situation and have had to go through life feeling lost and out of place,” JoAnn says.
Teatro Vivo receives funding for its productions from various sources, including the City of Austin’s Cultural Art Division and the Texas Commission of the Arts. Ticket revenue, fundraisers, and sponsors help keep Teatro Vivo alive.
As a bilingual theater company, Teatro Vivo makes it simple for audiences to understand what is going on within each production, regardless of which language they speak. “Typically, a line will be read in either English or Spanish and a response will be given in the opposite language followed by an action,” Rupert says.
Though plays are driven to focus on a Latino audience, Teatro Vivo’s productions are open to anyone and often have a diverse audience in attendance. With its first productions having an 80 to 90 percent Latino audience, the audience is now made up of about 60 percent Latinos and 40 percent other ethnicities.
Long time sound director for Teatro Vivo Alexis Arredondo says that the company is his favorite to work with. “Teatro Vivo is very good at creating a friendly atmosphere and making sure resources are available for everyone who wants to contribute to a production,” he adds.
Growing up in South Texas as a Latino, Arrendodo was told that it was necessary for him to speak English if he wanted to migrate elsewhere from his hometown. Since his move to Austin, Arrendodo says that Teatro Vivo gave him the chance to reconnect with his Spanish speaking roots through the bilingual plays they produced. He is currently serving as a light director for Teatro Vivo’s new show “La Pastorela,” a traditional holiday play.
The original version of La Pastorela tells the story of shepherds who encounter several obstacles while traveling to Bethlehem with the assistance of angels. Having done performances of La Pastorela in prior years, Teatro Vivo adapted the story to make it relevant to modern day.
“In our upcoming production of La Pastorela, we’ve turned the shepherds into Central American, Syrian, and Mexican refugees as it documents their plight to the U.S.” JoAnn says. The play’s theme, influenced heavily by recent issues concerning immigration, is intended to send a message out to its audience in both a serious and comedic way.
For now, the Reyes couple intends on producing and writing more plays for Teatro Vivo. Though they’ve reached out to a heavy Latino population in Austin, the couple hopes to impact more Latinos with each play and inspire more theater companies across Austin to accurately represent and feature Latinos.
For more information about Teatro Vivo and its current shows, visit teatrovivo.org.