When Robert Weber Federico joined the newly formed Repertorio Español in 1971, it was as a young freelance costume and set designer. The summer job quickly evolved into an ongoing volunteer position, in which Federico, an Italian-American, would help sort mail and draft proposals in English for the theatre’s Cuban founders, the late Gilberto Zaldívar and René Buch. The Spanish-language theatre reminded Federico of home, and it wasn’t long before he was speaking Spanish himself and an integral part of the Repertorio family.
In 1972, Repertorio moved into its permanent home on East 27th Street, where the company—now celebrating its 50th anniversary—remains today. Federico, who has been Executive Producer of the theatre since 2005, has overseen Repertorio’s evolution over several decades. Budgets may have increased exponentially, but one thing has remained the same: the mission to introduce the best of Latin American, Spanish, and Hispanic-American theatre to New York City in quality productions.
“It’s straightforward: do good theatre, in Spanish,” says Federico, “and be an organization that gives people a chance to feel pride in their culture.” When it comes to instilling pride, education has always been an important part of Repertorio’s mission. “It’s valuable for high school students learning Spanish, but also, if they’re Latino, to see something from their own heritage.” Since its founding, Repertorio has committed its resources to making theatre part of the classroom experience—not only to create the next generation of Latinx theatregoers, but artists also.
The theatre has nurtured and supported the careers of a number of Latinx playwrights, including Pulitzer Prize winner Nilo Cruz. His play Exquisita Agonía, a commission from Repertorio about a woman whose husband’s heart is transplanted into a stranger, is currently playing in repertory as part of the theatre’s 50th anniversary season. The season also features a Gabriel García Márquez adaptation, a rare comedy written by a woman from Spain’s Golden Age, as well as Carmen Rivera’s long-running La Gringa, which, 22-years strong, holds the record for the longest-running Off-Broadway Spanish-language play.
Long runs such as this, and the fact that Federico has spent the better part of his life at Repertorio, are proof that he landed on something special. “Theatre is love itself,” says the executive producer. “As long as I’m capable of walking around and enjoying it, it’s not work. It’s a love affair and I’d like to keep doing it.”