Tijuana and San Diego unite the border through theater
By Alejandra Enciso Guzmán
On Wednesday June 18th, more than one hundred people from different cities all over the United States crossed the border to Tijuana to discuss one thing: Theater. It was truly a historic moment. It had been years since the city of Tijuana had such a happening due to its violent chapters (which have since passed) and the bad and very widespread publicity that accompanied that time. People from San Diego just stopped crossing the border.
In November 2012 when the idea came about to organize a leg of the National American Theatre conference in Tijuana, it seemed to me that people were talking in a dead language. I was familiar with the mission of the Theatre Communications Group. It just was not as clear to me whether its reach could extend to the city of Tijuana and the rich cultural activity there.
Dana Harrel, La Jolla Playhouse Producing Director at the time, and member of the organization committee of the 2014 conference being in San Diego, had the idea. The next year and a half was a constant adventure filled with challenges, slammed doors and people lacking interest or belief in the project. It involved about three trips to San Diego/Tijuana made by various TCG and La Jolla Playhouse staff in order to scout venues, network with key people and grasp the possibilities.
The Tijuana Cultural Center (CECUT) sponsored a van with a driver on one of those trips. During that year and a half, theater professionals from New York and San Diego networked with theater professionals from Tijuana such as Professor Hugo Salcedo, playwright Jorge Luisillo, Director Raymundo Garduño, and actress Sofía Félix; entrepreneurs Carlos Jiménez and Isaac Aguirre, as well as visionaries Jesús Quintero and Ramón Verdugo. The networking also involved experiencing theater. Plays. In Spanish. With –improvised- simultaneous translation.
When June of this year arrived, nobody believed it was already here.
Well, this new chapter for Tijuana, titled Crossing Borders, a pre-conference for the 24th annual TCG conference to be held in San Diego, did much to dispel that city’s prior reputation. Attendees witnessed Antígona en la frontera, an adaptation of Antigone written by Griselda Gambaro about the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo in Argentina which was in turn adapted by the dance dramatist Dora Arreola. It was held on the beach — at Friendship Park to be precise — right where both borders coincide.
People were captivated by the ‘bride to be’; she just … wandered into the sea, looking for answers. It is a metaphor or analogy of what goes on everyday and not just at the geographical border. This is All Borders — the arts versus show business, for example; how people consider themselves ‘too busy’ to go to a play or a museum, yet they are willing to stand in line seven hours to try a ‘cronut’ or check out the latest iPhone; how ‘Keeping up with the Kardashians’ has changed us all … somehow.
Conference attendees crossed to Tijuana to do a Dine Around and see theater. Teatro en el Incendio hosted, presenting Gladiators, public improv games. Attendees also went to the ‘Pasaje Rodríguez’ a cultural corridor that has art galleries, theater, local breweries and books. The day ended with dinner at Caesars Restaurant, one of the city’s many landmarks. The magic happened once more and the networking got a big boost. People were very happy
The voices united and became one. Tijuana theater companies were represented and talked to different professionals showcasing their work: Teatro en el Incendio, Inmigrantes Teatro, Estación Teatro and Tijuana Hace Teatro. Tijuana Hace Teatro also had a breakout session about their project ‘Audience School’ in which 15 people (selected through writing an essay) watch theater for a year…FOR FREE. The goals of the Theatre Communications Group were clearly happening: exchanging ideas, brainstorming and talking about how to better attract and entertain audiences.
On the downside, the local authorities did not recognize these efforts that took such hard work and enhanced both cities in areas that boost the economy like tourism, food, site visits and most importantly, a positive image. These conference attendees will go back home and will talk about their experience, multiplying it.
An invitation was sent to the Mexican local authorities in order for them to be a part of these efforts and join forces. Arts and Culture most often suffer the budget cuts and get pushed back in line. This event was no exception, not a priority in the agenda let’s say. Nevertheless the performing art voices came through successfully.
This new chapter is just beginning. When the awards and acknowledgements come, we will again send out the invitations. After all, showing up and being in the picture is key.
Alejandra Enciso Guzmán is an arts consultant and reporter in both Tijuana and San Diego. @Riselah / @Riselaheng