Mario Ernesto Sanchez: My name is Mario Ernesto Sanchez. And I am the Producing Assistant Director of Teatro Avante and The International Hispanic Theatre Festival of Miami.
Jo Reed: Tell us a little bit about Teatro Avante, how did it begin?
Mario Ernesto Sanchez: Oh, we started in 1978 because when I first came to this town there was a lot of like comedies and political satires and Vaudevilles and basically that's really not the theatre that I wanted to do. So I tried to change the situation but I couldn't, so I said “Well, the only way that I can do and present and produce the plays that I want will be to open our company.” So in 1978 we opened with Electra Garrigo by Virgilio Pineira, which is one of the best Cuban Playwrights of the 20th century. And we took it from there. Then in May 1979 we registered as a not-for-profit cultural organization in the state of Florida. And that's how it began. And so basically we're celebrating 30 years.
Jo Reed: You have worked really with plays and Playwrights certainly across the Hispanic world, but globally as well. You don't confine yourself to Hispanic writers. You really have a global reach.
Mario Ernesto Sanchez: We do, especially at the beginning where we started doing all sorts of things, including translations of English Playwrights. I don't think a theatre should or our theatre, should limit itself to a specific kind of play, just the same way as a festival, we don't-- do just new works, we don't do just classical work. Basically because I truly believe that theatre, it's not black and white. It's an array of gray shades. And we should present and do everything that we feel will advance the theatre movement here, especially in the local level and also in touring. When we do represent The United States at different tours or international theatre festivals. So definitely this is a Hispanic company we mainly do Hispanic works, only because that's what we can do best. But we certainly don't limit ourselves and we try to do anything, we just not long ago we did a Shakespeare piece. So basically no, we're not limited by our nationality or ethnicity.
Jo Reed: You've done so many, just looking at a brief summary of the countries that you've represented on the stage. it's really amazing.
Mario Ernesto Sanchez: Well, again there's so much out there. I truly believe that half of what I know now, which isn't much, but half of what I know I've learned by doing that, by thinking that way, by traveling, by going to other countries, by visiting and experiencing all the works and also bring them over here through our main component, which is the festival. And I wish I truly wish that my colleagues and theatre artists and groups would travel. Because it's really amazing what the things that you learn. And I'm not just talking about artistic, I'm talking about everything, you know, culturally it's a wealth of knowledge. And eventually that helps you in the selection of the piece, in working with the actors in directing the piece and because it's all general knowledge that you need and require in order to do a good job.
Jo Reed: Well, that's part of what we're here to talk about today because you in fact applied for a grant to go abroad, to be part of a larger international program. Talk about that.
Mario Ernesto Sanchez: Oh, and we did get it.
Mario Ernesto Sanchez: Not the full amount, you never get the full amount. No, that was really amazing, amazing because we did an adaptation of Yerma by Frederico Garcia Lorca from Spain. And it was very very successful. And this is something that I wanted to tell you. Not all companies travel and not all companies can tour or not all companies wishes to tour, we do. But just because I said that, that doesn't mean that we can tour with every piece. I place very close attention not only to the production values that we place in every show, but also on the results. And needless to say, sometimes we're not as successful as we would like to be. So basically when I do accept invitations abroad, when I do we do represent The United States, we take it very seriously. And we do so with our best work. If it isn't our best work, then we'll just take a rain check. In this case with Yerma, in that it came out, it was directed by Lilliam Vega, the cast we do have an ensemble theatre company. It was very, very good, people liked it very much, we got very wonderful reviews. And then we were invited to attend the festival at Moosier [ph?], actually Molina Sejuda [ph?] but Moosier is the region, you know? And so then I learn that the Mid Atlantic was sort of like taking over Arts International duties and programs. So I said “This is it for us.” Because basically when we're invited, you know, sometimes we get the room and board and sometimes but basically the biggest problem is the airfare, the airfare and of course the fee that it's never enough. Especially if you have a large cast. This wasn't that large. Yerma had Five actors, two technicians who were like ten or twelve in the group. But still, and we were able to do so because of a couple of grants. One from Mid Atlantic and the other one from the arts program here at The Miami-Dade Cultural Affairs Department. That's how we were able to travel. But this one in particular, this grant in particular from Mid Atlantic was instrumental in getting us over there.
Mario Ernesto Sanchez: The experience I had been in Moosier [ph?] before, but the cast had not been there. And it was wonderful because they were able to see all the companies, they were able to network, they were able to talk and we did a performance for the students in the morning. We always allowed them to talk backs immediately after the performance forum. And that's where we learned the most, because the questions, some questions are very, very smart and it forced us to think, you know? And especially in Spain, and I need to say this, here sometimes artists are very frustrated because they are not being looked upon like they should I think. In Spain being an artist is like being a Doctor, it's like being a Lawyer. It's a very rich country in culture. And they give a lot of importance to the theatre and to being an artist. And that's how I feel every time I go there.
Mario Ernesto Sanchez: You're treated like royalty because you're an artist. Here sometimes because you're an artist, you're treated like dirt. But over there it's a completely different story. And I was very, very enthusiastically about bringing our group there because I knew that they were enjoy it very much, they will learn a lot and they would want to come back.
Jo Reed: Now, did you also bring sets and costumes?
Mario Ernesto Sanchez: Yes. Well, especially now with the economic situation of the world, we know that if we have a huge cast and cargo and what-have-you, forget it. So basically a few years back we started designing our place for touring with that in mind. That if it came out good enough, we could tour and it wouldn't be so much-- so expensive to anybody to invite us. So basically we designed to tour, we place a lot of importance in costuming and lighting. But the set are very few set pieces that can work anywhere, platforms and this and that. So basically yes, it was designed like that. Because of that, we only need to travel with the cast and then the cast will tell the cast that they are allowed to bring one suitcase, because the other suitcase either brings props or costume.
Mario Ernesto Sanchez: And that's how we do it. And we avoid a lot of hassle and a lot of costs. And then over there, then we find things that will be too heavy, then we find them over there.
Jo Reed: And how long were you over there?
Mario Ernesto Sanchez: Oh 10 days I think.
Mario Ernesto Sanchez: Or more, were able to do a performance for the students at Molina then in some other town - we did another performance and then we did a performance at the festival in it's almost a brand new theatre over there in Molina. And that's something that amazes me, Molina y Sejuda [ph?] is like you-- telling you a very, very small town in Florida for example. And it has a performance arts center like you know, you could do an opera there. And it's really amazing and it's brand new. So that only tells you the amount of support that they get from The Government. Not only at the local level, but also at the regional level and at the national level, you know?
Jo Reed: How did the cast members respond to being there? Was that their first trip?
Mario Ernesto Sanchez: Oh, they were having a lot of fun. They were having a lot of fun. They didn't have that much time, you know, when you tour and when you're invited to a festival, actually, you know, I try to tell 'em that we don't go as tourists, we go to work. And I'm very, very disciplined in that, as soon as we get there, we need to start setting up and rehearsing. And then once everything that all of that has been taken care of, then we can have a little fun. But not until everything is done. So they had a lot of fun, just visiting another country, eating, wonderful non-fattening foods.
Mario Ernesto Sanchez: But also they were able to mingle, they were able to network, they were able to talk about other people's work, they were able to see other people's work and talk to to the CEO of the theatre and we're usually trying to get as much information as we can. Because basically because we want to go back, you know, to there or someplace else. And as you know, we've been everywhere in Latin America, we've been as far as Japan. We've been in Slovenia, it's really and I truly believe-- because that's why I want to say it again, that I wish every company would do the same, because you learn so much by traveling. I think any international culture, exchange program in any organization, foundation it is crucial, crucial to the development and to the advancement of the company, crucial.
Jo Reed: I'm assuming that people in the company met other actors while they were there? Yeah.
Mario Ernesto Sanchez: Oh yes, yes. And they talked about it, and we talk about our system and methodologies and how we rehearse and how how much they get paid especially.
Mario Ernesto Sanchez: And how we tackle the work, how we select the work, which is, for me, as the Director, is the most difficult assignment definitely. But then once we have the work in our hands, then how do we do the work and all the meetings that we have with the cast and the designers and all of that. And you'd be surprised, every, you know, like every teacher has his own little book, every company does it differently.
Jo Reed: You know, it strikes me as something that's really interesting you clearly have your finger on the pulse of the community, in which you live. And at the same time your international outreach is huge. And that seems like a pretty tricky juggling act to me.
Mario Ernesto Sanchez: I've been here a long time. I've been here since 1962. I know what is called The Historic Exile and The New Exile. And I know what works. I also have experience in knowing what best to produce. You need to have a catch. Just because I like the play or I like this role or I like to direct that doesn't make it. You still need to think in bigger terms, in larger terms whether it's good for the community, whether it's something that needs to be said, whether it's something that needs to be discovered. And also within our limitations budget-wise and technical-wise and everything else, then you need to select the piece that best suited for the company. Especially with the personnel and the actors that we have. And sometimes I go out there and see-- I say “why would they-- why are they doing this play?” You know, sometimes it's an unknown play, an unknown story or unknown Playwright, an unknown Director and then they blame it on the community. I think if you give the community what they need and what they deserve and if you're good enough I think the community would respond. I never, ever criticize the audience ever. I think it is up to us to bring it to us. And if you lose something and it's not a sellout, then you need to ask yourself why. What are you doing, not them, what are you doing that really interest them.
Jo Reed: What are some of the challenges of taking work and presenting it internationally?
Mario Ernesto Sanchez: Oh, Lord. It's a huge challenge, however when you have traveled as much as I have, then it becomes a little bit easier. And I'll tell you why. One of the reasons why I say that every company should travel is because not only you get all the benefits that we have already mentioned, but also it puts you on a scale. I think as an artist, you need to know what are you capable of and what are you not capable of. I mean, if you come here tomorrow to hire me to direct a ballet, I need to say “No.” And some people say “Yes.” - you need to know your abilities and capabilities and talent and going to other countries and especially performing at festivals, it you look at a scale. And at the beginning when I started traveling, I said “Oh my God, you know, this is a huge challenge because, little poor things here from Miami, Florida, I mean, not even from New York, from Miami, Florida going to Slovenia or going to Japan but then when you get there, then you're able in the full scope of the program, you're able to say “Well, I'm not as good as this company but I'm not as bad as that one.” it's sort of like a thermometer, and it puts you on the range that you fit and that you deserve. And then it also tells you on the few things that you need to improve on. So either in designing or in selecting the work or in acting or in directing or whatever, but it tells you what are your downfalls and and what are your merits. So it that's another valuable thing in traveling and also comparing yourself, your play, your work with others.
Mario Ernesto Sanchez: So that would be the biggest challenge. To be wise enough and intelligent enough to know where you stand in terms of the quality of the company and in terms of the organization of the company and everything else that falls with it.
Mario Ernesto Sanchez: The biggest challenge is, sometimes it's not just money, you know, sometimes it's just opportunities, sometimes it's just support, sometimes it's energy, it's hopes, it's an array of things. I think when you don't have that much money, creativity grows a great deal. The only thing I don't want to become rich, I don't want to have a lot of money, I just wish it wouldn't be this difficult. I just wish it wouldn't be this hard. Because every year we have to start all over again raising funds, writing grants, filing reports, doing this and that. And that's something I learned by traveling, you know, in other festivals, in Spain for example, I just came back from The Spelefeta Elincales [ph?]. And Pepe Valet [ph?], whose a good friend of mine and he's the Director of that festival, The Government tells him how much money he's going to have for next year festival now. So he plans accordingly. I have no way of knowing. And let me tell you, if I was going to talk to you about my success or my gut it would be that. That I keep on organizing the best festival I can for the following year. And yet I don't know how much money I'm going to raise. I write grants, we ask here and there but the answers are not here yet. And yet my festival next year, 25th anniversary celebration is in July. So basically that makes it very, very hard. I don't know how many companies to invite. We usually have a set date from the 7th through the 25th of July, but it could be bigger. I could bring more companies. I could bring bigger companies. I could really make a bigger dent in Miami. I can't, and that's what bothers me.
Mario Ernesto Sanchez: That's what bothers me. That I don't have a set figure to work with, that I don't have we prepare a budget, yes. But it's a utopic budget. And then we go out there to raise funds to develop the whole thing. And then the answer starts coming in, and I start subtracting things and erasing things, you know? And yet I'm really proud, humbly proud of everything that we have achieved and we have done. But it could be easier. I know that it could be easier.