Rehearsal of PARADISE at Brava Theater's Cabaret on Nov. 4. Photo by Anna-Luisa Brakman.

Historias de Descolonización/Decolonization Stories Festival 1st Edition premieres today at Brava Theater’s Cabaret. The performances are the product of a collaborative effort between La Lengua Teatro en Español and AlterTheater to decentralize English in the arts and bring decolonization stories to the fore in the performance arts scene.

Poet and playwright Paul Flores co-founded La Lengua Teatro en Español alongside actress Virginia Blanco. La Lengua is the first theater company to bring contemporary Spanish-language theater to San Francisco. 

“We both felt it was unimaginable that a city like San Francisco was not developing theater in other languages,” Flores told Mission Local.

Flores’ impetus for creating La Lengua was a frustration with the development process at traditional playhouses, which can feel less like a partnership and more like the commodification of an artist’s work.

“I develop plays, particularly bilingual plays, with arts organizations so that we can create a relationship. So you can get to know my community. The way that theater works now is that you submit a play and they’re like, ‘oh, we like you, let’s produce you.’ But they don’t know who you are. Sometimes I don’t work that way, and in a lot of ways, Latinos don’t work that way.”

In an effort to create a cultural space for BIPOC performance artists to work in their native languages while exploring themes relating to decolonization in the Americas, La Lengua and AlterTheater created a playwright residency program that commissioned up-and-coming artists to write multilingual short plays. The event tonight presents these pieces in public for the first time, along with artist Q&As and guest artist performances.

“That’s a huge thing, to conceive of Spanish-language theater as a form of immigrant theater in the United States. That’s what we’re doing. We’re trying to show that people who come to the play are as important as what’s on stage.”

Rehearsal of PARADISE on Nov 4. Photo by Anna-Luisa Brakman.

Among the plays debuting tonight is “Paradise” (Spanglish, Puerto Rico) by Tere Martinez. The play is about American luxury real estate developers taking advantage of the climate crisis in Puerto Rico by buying up cheap land, and then prohibiting Puerto Ricans from using their own land to go to the beach. The play is performed in Boricua Spanish (Puerto Rican Spanglish).

Other plays include Chana Mamani’s “La Boliviana” (Spanish, Argentina), which follows Amaya’s dreams and experiences in a “Buenos Aires-like city,” with its European aspirations and predominantly white cosmopolitanism.

Blossom Johnson’s “Ayóóʼánííníshʼní (I Love You in Diné)” (Diné, United States) relates the story of three BTS-loving teens who attempt to develop a recipe for a Fancy Diné Piccadilly (an American Southwest snow cone topped with pickles and Kool-Aid) in an attempt to raise money for concert tickets.

“Schoolboy, Or The Secret of Social Studies on a Stolen Land” (English, United States) by Cris Eli Blak explores the story of a young man of color at a predominantly white private school as he reconciles his desire to challenge the school’s historical prejudice with his own privilege as a student, while navigating relationships with his mother, teacher and friends. 

“I’m just doing what people did for me. You know, I’m just following in the mentorship process of maintaining our cultural legacy in 24th Street and the Mission District. …This is where our grandparents came and put down roots. We have to protect it. We believe that our community is important, so we defend it.”

Historias de Descolonización/Decolonization Stories Festival 1st Edition premieres at Brava Theater’s Cabaret on Nov. 5 from 2 to 9 p.m. Tickets are available here. General admission is $30.

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