Meet the Producer Who’s Changing the Game for Latinx Playwrights

Interview   Meet the Producer Who’s Changing the Game for Latinx Playwrights
 
Trailblazer Jacob Padrón creates new space for artists of color in Off-Broadway’s theatrical institutions through his Sol Project.
Jacob Padrón
Jacob Padrón Marc J. Franklin

There’s a reason you probably already know about The Sol Project, the New York-based collective of artists whose mission it is to put Latinx playwrights on the Off-Broadway map—and beyond. Though it only launched in May last year, the initiative has already received generous grants from the likes of Lin-Manuel Miranda and the Time Warner Foundation, and partnered with Off-Broadway heavyweights like The Public Theater and Playwrights Horizons. The collective, made up of Jacob Padrón, Claudia Acosta, Elena Araoz, Adriana Gaviria, David Mendizábal, Kyoung Park, and Laurie Woolery, will develop and co-produce 12 works by Latinx playwrights (at varying stages of their careers) with 12 Off-Broadway institutions.

Nine New York City theatres have already signed on: Playwrights Realm, MCC Theater, Atlantic Theater Company, Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, New Georges, Women’s Project Theater, LAByrinth Theater Company, and the aforementioned The Public, and Playwrights Horizons. Every partner commits to co-produce a play with the Sol Project, to commission a new piece from a Latinx playwright for future production, and to meet with as many artists of color, in all fields—administrative, crew, and design—during the collaboration. The Sol Project’s mission is to build a pipeline for all artists of color. The goal is not about giving Off-Broadway theatres a chance to jump on the inclusivity trend, but to set these organizations up for the future and to transform New York City’s theatrical institutions into real homes for artists of color.

Playbill chatted with founding artistic director Padrón, who has worked as a producer at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Chicago’s Steppenwolf, and the Public, about the initiative and its future.

Jacob Padrón
Jacob Padrón Marc J. Franklin

When did you dream up The Sol Project and how did it come to fruition?
Jacob Padrón: The seed for the idea came in 2013. I was at a convening of about 80 Latinx theatremakers at Emerson College and one of the things that I heard playwrights talk about was not having the kind of visibility that they desired in New York City—specifically at the larger, Off-Broadway theatres. There was a feeling that when we assessed the larger landscape, it was still pretty homogeneous. There wasn’t a lot of cultural representation.

I started to think about coming up with an initiative that would give these writers more opportunities at the larger institutions. I looked to models like 13P and came up with the idea of 12 playwrights, but rather than self-producing, thought about partnering with different Off-Broadway theatres. I brought my idea to Oskar Eustis [artistic director at the Public] and asked if we could host a gathering at the Public to assess the value proposition of something like The Sol Project.

Did having The Public’s support open doors for you?
The Public hadn’t yet come on board as a partner at that stage, but they provided the space for Latinx theatremakers to come together and put The Sol Project on its way. I think the thing that really opened doors was the experience I’d had previously as a producer. That allowed artistic directors to know that I had some level of expertise, and to be a serious partner. I feel really blessed that these artistic leaders have said yes. That’s the animating idea behind The Sol Project: Let’s just say yes! Yes, to this idea. Yes, to each other, and yes, to building this community.

So, if it’s not a question of artistic leaders saying “yes,” than why do you think Latinx playwrights haven’t had the same kind of visibility in New York up to this point?
It’s a number of things. I think there’s a real fear of “not getting it right” and doing it wrong in terms of having the cultural context to understand what the play is or what the writer is trying to do. I think having a partner like The Sol Project allows us to work as cultural translators who can help an organization work with a Latinx playwright to navigate the new play process. We also provide expertise in audience development. We want the audiences who come to see the work reflective of the community we live in.

What kind of tools do you offer in terms of audience development?
We really try to get to know the culture and the value system of the partnering organization first, and then try to understand their audience. We spend time with the staff and throw out ideas about how we can bring in a more racially diverse audience.

What other resources do you provide each partner?
The hope is that The Sol Project is able to make a meaningful financial contribution to all of the partners. We’re showing up at the table with different resources—not just financial resources—but with time, expertise, and a knowing and understanding of our community. It’s a full package for companies.

Does that experience then set the theatre up for producing more Latinx works in the future?
Yes. What I say to the artistic leaders is that it’s not just about the one Latinx play that is being co-produced with The Sol Project. It’s about building an artistic home for all artists of color in a real way. Transforming the organizations and making the stages more racially diverse and equitable. The Sol Project has a larger vision and mission, and that’s to make space for everyone. By lifting up one community, we can lift up all communities of color.

The Sols Project’s third production is Luis Alfaro’s Oedipus El Rey, now playing through December 3 at the Public Theater. Directed by Chay Yew, the play re-imagines the Greek tragedy in modern-day South Central L.A., with a troubled Latino man at its center. For tickets and more information visit Publictheater.org.

For more information on The Sol Project or to get tickets to other Sol Project shows, visit SolProject.org.

Oedipus_El_Ray_Public_Theater_Production_Photos_2017_HR
Juan Castano and Joel Perez Joan Marcus


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