Women Leaders: Rebecca Read Medrano, Gala Hispanic Theatre

Our spring arts preview featured 20 women cultural leaders in Washington, D.C. We wanted to amplify their voices in our online newsletters, spotlighting each of them individually. Our Monday April 25 newsletter features Rebecca Read Medrano, co-founder and executive director of Gala Hispanic Theatre.

THE GEORGETOWNER: D.C. should have a “spring awakening” of sorts after two long years of Covid. What are you most looking forward to for your institution this season?  
REBECCA READ MEDRANO: Yes, I think there should be an awakening. I think everyone is ready for it. The important thing, emotionally and psychologically, is that people want to gather and have in-person experiences, like theater. They also want to stay safe, so they are cautious. I think we at GALA navigated that very well, since we opened before. Other theaters did, but we put practices in place to keep both audiences and artists safe, such as installing an entirely new HVAC system to filter and turn over air, requiring proof of vaccination, and mandatory mask wearing. We were able to start with social distancing performances and when pandemic numbers dropped, we were able to perform at a larger capacity. We also did innovative things like hanging plexiglass in front of the stage, or having artists perform behind plexiglass. We are looking forward to performing our upcoming musical, “ON YOUR FEET! En español,” to full capacity houses and welcoming back patrons who have been isolated for two years. 

GEORGETOWNER: What led you to become a leader in your organization? Tell us a bit about your career trajectory and inspirations along the way.

RRM: I lived in Spain and Mexico as a child and had adopted sisters from Bolivia, so I was immersed in Latin American culture and language from a young age. I studied dance all my life, and then attended Smith College and graduated with a Masters in Latin American History and Culture, and a minor in Theater. I was dancing in New York City, had an accident, and was encouraged to return to D.C. (where I had family) to audition for a bilingual theater program being run out of the Back Alley Theater at 14th Street and Kennedy (not too far from where GALA at Tivoli is now located). There I met my future husband, Hugo Medrano (who had fled Argentina), with whom I founded GALA, Grupo de Artistas LatinoAmericanos, in 1976. We both had a vision that is relevant today: the need to bring many different Latino/x cultures together to celebrate their rich culture and language and share that culture with a broad public. D.C. was ready for this vision since many political exiles were fleeing repressive military regimes in Latin America at that time and were settling in D.C. We became leaders in response to a need in the community to provide a space where artists could create freely, express themselves, and stay in touch with their cultural roots. That was GALA then and that is still our mission as leaders of GALA. 

GEORGETOWNER: What are the biggest challenges for your organization?

RRM: The biggest challenge is human resources. We are much too small of a staff for all the programming we do, but every time we hire a new staff person and train them, they move on in a year or two. I think it is because in their perception, they won’t have as many opportunities in a culturally-specific theater of color as they would in a larger white institution. 

GEORGETOWNER: How do you feel being among the first women to lead an arts institution?  

RRM: I think women have always been leaders, or the force behind the male leaders. It is just that women don’t tell that story. I do what I do because I believe in GALA’s mission, I love my work, and I love serving our community. I do not do this to prove that I can be a leader. You lead by example, as they say. 

GEORGETOWNER: What are you most proud of accomplishing while serving in your position?  

RRM: I’m most proud of the fact that we’ve kept our vision and mission clear throughout 47 years and that today I see the children of parents who used to come to the theater bringing their own children to GALA for our GALita plays and other programs. It means we’re passing something on and inspiring future generations, and that makes my heart sing. 

For more information on Gala Hispanic Theatre go here.


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