Louisville’s Spanish Theatre Proving that Art Is a Universal Language

Louisville is home to an estimated 25-30,000 native Spanish speakers, and until recently, the city’s arts scene has been slow to embrace this growing population. The city now boasts two Spanish-speaking theatre companies, and both have shows opening soon. 

Louisville’s first Spanish-language company is El Delirio Producciones, which launched four years ago with Spanish poet and playwright Frederico Garcia Lorca’s tempestuous tragedy “The Love of Don Perlimpin and Belisa in the Garden.” After a successful run in November and January of Nilo Cruz’s 2003 Pulitzer Prize winner “Anna in the Tropics,” the company is re-staging Lorca’s doomed romance with a whole new production that opens this week at The Bard’s Town.

Lorca’s short play tells the story of an aging bachelor who marries his beautiful young neighbor, only to discover she enjoys the company of other men. He tricks her into falling in love with an imaginary lover who woos her with secret admirer letters, and ends up killing himself to preserve her romantic ideals.

It’s a darkly romantic follow-up to “Anna in the Tropics,” a story about Cuban cigar factory workers who become invested in the story of Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina.” 

“’Anna in the Tropics’ was set in the 1920s, and it was about traditions. This immigrant family who comes to the United States. Now Lorca brings some romance. It’s more of a tragedy. It has to be something different,” says El Delirio executive director Angie Williams.

Williams is also an actor, and she plays Belisa in the upcoming production. The company includes twelve actors and a handful of directors, most of whom are immigrants.

“We have people from Cuba, Honduras, Columbia, Mexico, they’re all over the place,” says Williams with a laugh.  

All of the plays El Delirio stages are produced in Spanish, but the company’s appeal is reaching beyond the area’s Hispanic community. You would think that native speakers would be the easiest to get through the door. But Williams says depending on the performance, up to eighty percent of their audience isn’t fluent in Spanish – and that’s okay.

“We want everyone to challenge themselves to see a different type of theatre. People have to have an open mind. Like when you see opera. They probably won’t understand what they’re singing, but it’s art. Art is a universal language,” she says. “Sometimes the acting is so good and clean that you can have the emotions and feel what we feel. We want to transmit that to the audience.”

Now El Delirio is partnering with Jefferson County Community and Technical College, and wants to continue to reach out to the Hispanic community to involve more Spanish speakers. Next up: a bigger play in a larger venue to attract a wider crowd.

In the meantime, they’re already having an influence on the arts community. Another Spanish-language company, Teatro Tercera Llamada, formed last year. Their mission includes social justice theatre and children’s productions.

“We wanted to put meaningful Spanish-language theatre out in Louisville,” says founding member Haydee Canovas. “This is the Month of the Child, so we’re working with the Louisville Public Library, and we’ll have presentations at Bon Air, Iroquois, and the Main Library, doing interpretive theatre based on one of the storybooks from their library.”

Teatro Tercera Llamada’s new season opens May 15-18 with a Spanish production of Polish playwright Slawomir Mrozek’s two-person political drama “The Emigrants” at Vault 1031 (1031 S. 6th St.). Canovas, who had been one of El Delirio’s founding members, will direct.

“It’s an important play. When you study theatre, it’s one of the important Polish absurdist plays,” says Canovas. “We’re bringing the story of many immigrants, it just happens to be Spanish-speaking immigrants, though the story doesn’t say which country they are from.”

So now there are two Spanish-speaking theatre companies in Louisville, a fact that pleases Williams.

“We opened the door to many other companies, so this is great news for us,” says Williams. “We’re really proud of that.”

Because Hispanic culture is incredibly diverse, as Williams re-discovers every time she takes a new role. She hails from Columbia, but has played characters from Cuba and Spain.  

“You have to study the people, talk like them, walk like them. It’s something different for all of us, but it was a great experience,” she says.

“The Love of Don Perlimpin and Belisa in the Garden.” runs April 18-26 at The Bard’s Town.

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