Rebecca Read Medrano, who founded GALA Hispanic Theatre in 1976 with Hugo Medrano, a long-haired Argentinian colleague at a bilingual children’s theater (they married soon after), shared some of GALA’s four-decade history at Georgetown Media Group’s Nov. 10 Cultural Leadership Breakfast at the George Town Club.
GALA, which stands for Groupo de Artistas LatinoAmericanos, has stayed true to its mission of “promoting and sharing the Latino arts and cultures with a diverse audience” while adapting to changing audiences — political exiles early on and economic exiles more recently, for example — and undergoing several relocations, from Adams Morgan to downtown D.C. to Columbia Heights, in each case pre-gentrification.
The Medranos continue to lead GALA, Rebecca as the organization’s executive director and Hugo as its producing artistic director.
In its first years, performances alternated in Spanish and English. Later, Spanish dialogue was translated for English-only theatergoers via headsets. GALA’s Spanish-language productions now have English surtitles. The actors in “Las Polacas: The Jewish Girls of Buenos Aires,” presented in 2015 — and very popular with Jewish audiences, Medrano said, though its plot deals with Polish Jewish prostitutes — spoke and sang in Spanish and in English (rather than in Polish).
In 2005, following a six-year, $4-million-plus renovation led by Medrano, GALA moved into the restored Tivoli Theatre — formerly “a heroin den,” she said, also noting the presence of benevolent ghosts — in Columbia Heights. The first production at the Tivoli was “Yerma,” a 1934 play by Federico Garcia Lorca. When GALA staged “Yerma” again in 2015 during the theater’s 40th anniversary season, it won six Helen Hayes Awards.
In talking about GALA’s productions and audiences, Medrano, who majored in Latin American studies at Smith College and spent 22 years working for the Organization of American States, gave the attendees a lesson — one might even say an education — in the intricacies of Latin American history and culture and the varied background and experience of Latin American immigrants and their descendants in the United States.
Among the events of GALA’s current season, which includes not only theater but film and children’s programs, two of the most anticipated are the annual Fiesta de los Reyes Magos (Three Kings Day) on Jan. 8, featuring live animals and a procession through the neighborhood, and the U.S. premiere of a Spanish-language production of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s 2008 musical “In the Heights,” about Manhattan’s Washington Heights (not D.C.’s Columbia Heights), April 20 through May 21. For the latter production, a huge undertaking even for the expanded GALA of today, sponsorships are still available and needed.
The speaker at the next Cultural Leadership Breakfast, on Thursday, Dec. 8, will be Julie Kent, new artistic director of the Washington Ballet. Admission is $25. To RSVP, email firstname.lastname@example.org.