Alumni return to celebrate theatre troupe’s 30th anniversary

A series of special events, including visits from alumni involved in theatre, film and television, is being planned to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Teatrotaller, a theatre troupe formed to promote Spanish, Latin American and Latino culture.

Isabel Ramos ’96 started the group her sophomore year and never imagined it would still be around today.

“I wanted to create a theater that operated the way I was used to, taking on nontraditional and experimental work and dealing with things that were happening now. It was a family and all about collaboration,” she said.  “I made fliers and put them up, called people I knew and invited people. We created this germ of an idea and it spread, gathering people who were interested in finding their cultural voice.”

Over the years, the troupe has hosted world premieres of classical and contemporary plays by well-known writers such as Argentinian Nora Glickman and U.S. playwright Elaine Romero. Recent work included a play by local playwright Ana Florencia López Ulloa ’11 on gender issues in Mexico that will be touring internationally and an upcoming collaborative course and performance project in Spring 2023 with Juan Manuel Aldape Muñoz, assistant professor of performing and media arts.

two women dancing
Mark Malkin A scene from a recent Teatratoller production of Habla/Speak.

The group has also performed in Belgium, Israel, Mexico, Ecuador, Romania, India and other countries. The core of Teatrotaller is a course in Hispanic Theater Production, taught by Debra Castillo, Stephen H. Weiss Presidential Fellow, Emerson Hinchliff Professor of Hispanic Studies and professor of comparative literature; class productions have been augmented by volunteers from Cornell, Ithaca College and the wider community. Ramos calls Castillo one of the “godparents” of the troupe, along with Carlos Castillo-Chavez, a Cornell professor of mathematics at the time.

“Teatrotaller has been a community-oriented group, following the passions and concerns of talented student leaders, but always open to all and with a commitment to making the highest quality theatre possible, given the constraints of time and money,” Castillo said. “Over the Cornell generations, the group has evolved from presenting mostly Spanish and Latin American repertoire works to a more intense focus on the most important social issues affecting Latin American and Latinx communities today.”

Alex Santiago-Jirau ’02, arrived at Cornell from a small town in Puerto Rico with some experience in high school theatre and aspirations to become a lawyer. While he ended up majoring in urban studies, he discovered Teatrotaller and started acting and then directing, creating a passion he says he has followed to this day.

Now the director of education at the New York Theatre Workshop, Santiago-Jirau is also a lecturer at New York University and worked with the Center for Arts Education in New York City.

“I trace back my life in the theatre to Teatrotaller,” he said. “I had the community space that gave me the confidence to express myself.”

Jorge Silva ’12 latched on to Teatrotaller instead of taking roles in more traditional productions at Cornell. With the troupe’s support, he was able to stage an original devised work, “Adult Roy’s Badland: A Rave Play,” which he put on as his senior project.

two men in a fight
Lanny Huang Daniel Bartholomew '12, left, and Amara Aja'13 act in a scene from "Adult Roy's Badland"

“I had never considered that there could be a Latinx theatre troupe. It was wholly revelatory for me,” he said. “I got to work on this pretty gnarly Latinx theatre production with people who were interested in the notion of performing and telling stories that were more pertinent to Latinidad.”

Today, Silva is managing director for the Wirtz Center for the Performing Arts at Northwestern University and studying for his MBA at the University of Chicago.

Ramos agreed that the theatre troupe helped shape her life. After Cornell, she went on to get an M.F.A. in directing from the American Repertory Theater/ Moscow Art Theater School at Harvard University and now teaches theater at the University of Puerto Rico and directs her own company, Agora Teatro.

“Teatrotaller was my school,” she said. “I learned to produce, write grants and proposals, organize people and develop an audience. That’s what the essence of the theatre really is.”

Events planned to celebrate the anniversary include:

  • Oct. 28: Miguel Alcantud, “Microteatro: Formats, Mechanisms and Innovative Approaches to Theater,” 3:30-6 p.m., Henry St. John Building Gym, 301 S. Geneva St., Ithaca, free and open to the public. Register here.
  • Oct. 31: Jimmy Nieves ’01 and Alex Santiago-Jirau ’02, “Theatre of the Oppressed in Praxis: from Latin America to the U.S.,” 1-2:15 p.m., Uris Hall, G08, free and open to the public.
  • Nov. 10: Jimmy Noriega Ph.D. ’11, details TBD
  • Spring 2023 will include visits from Ramos and Silva and the anniversary year will continue into fall 2023 with more special events and programs.

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Mark Malkin A scene from a Teatratoller production of "Diamantina rosa"