Lights to go on again at GALA Hispanic Theatre with classic Spanish comedy

An illuminating conversation with Executive Director Rebecca Read Medrano about mounting the first live local theater production in months.

Now in its 45th season, GALA Hispanic Theatre has always been cutting edge. From its founding in 1976, GALA (Grupo de Artistas LatinoAmericanos) has been sharing and producing Latino arts and culture with the diverse audiences and communities in the DC Metro area.

About 16 percent of the DC Metro population identifies as Hispanic. The United States as a whole has the second-largest Spanish-speaking population in the world next to Mexico.

‘El Perro del Hortelano (The Dog in the Manger).’ Image courtesy of GALA Hispanic Theatre.

GALA is now on the cusp of producing the first live, long-run theater production in DC since COVID-19 closed theaters in mid-March. El Perro del Hortelano (The Dog in the Manger) by Lope de Vega comes to the GALA stage on October 29. GALA commissioned Paco Gámez to adapt the original de Vega comedy.

Lope de Vega is the master of Spain’s Golden Age of theater. De Vega and William Shakespeare were contemporaries.

The new GALA adaptation will be about timeless themes such as class conflict with a sharp look at issues of social justice updated for today’s audiences. And the comedy begins when a Countess falls for her male secretary. The Dog in the Manger will be performed in Spanish with English surtitles.

To learn more about the production—including health and safety concerns and possible risks for the cast, crew, and audiences—I had conversations by phone and email with GALA Co-Founder and Executive Director Rebecca Read Medrano. What I learned about what it takes to reopen after so many months of darkness was totally eyeopening. I could not have imagined the details that have to be considered and implemented when producing a play live on stage today.

As our conversation began, Rebecca indicated that GALA selected The Dog in the Manger from a desire to bring “joy” and GALA’s special voice to the DC-area community. And to bring that joy, GALA focused on health and safety so that the cast, crew, and audiences will feel safe and confident. (GALA’s complete reopening plans are online here.)

David Siegel: Please tell readers about GALA’s production of The Dog and the Manger.

GALA Co-Founder and Executive Director Rebecca Read Medrano.

Rebecca Medrano: We are excited to be opening with a Spanish classical comedy, The Dog and the Manger, by the most famous author of Spain’s Golden Age, Lope de Vega (the Shakespeare of Spain). We want to bring a little laughter and joy to our public and to give them some relief and uplifting.

GALA is the only professional Latinx theater in the region, serving an Hispanic community that is over 800,000 and providing employment to Latinx artists who cannot find work at other arts organizations. By reopening we are providing critical support to these artists, as well as to Latinx youth in our after-school program who lost their part-time jobs that helped support their single-parent families prior to COVID. These youth will work as house managers and ushers once we open.

With many DC-area theaters closed due to COVID-19, how has GALA been able to begin planning to reopen and have live performances again?

GALA Hispanic Theatre (Grupo de Artistas LatinoAmericanos) is excited to be reopening as part of the pilot plan outlined by Mayor Muriel Bowser that allows six venues to reopen safely in compliance with the regulations outlined by the Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency. GALA keeps the health and safety of our audiences and artists as our top priority, particularly since the Latinx community we serve has been disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

We were steadily and seriously working on a safe reopening plan. GALA was fortunate enough to have received a capital grant in February through the office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development that allowed us to renovate the entire theater, including installing a high-efficiency HVAC system with Merv 14 filters and 20 subfilters that capture particles as small as 0.3 microns. We also completed the restoration of the ornate historic dome that is the signature of the Tivoli theater and is on the national registry of historic landmarks.

Aside from a renovated air system, new carpets, seats, and paint, GALA has implemented the following strict policies: we will sell only 25 tickets per show and advance reservations are required; anyone entering the theater will have their temperature taken before entering; everyone is required to wear a mask at all times; only 15 people at a time are allowed in the lobby; patrons will be separated by five empty seats, more than six feet apart; no one will be allowed to sit in the first two rows, so as to provide a distance of more than 20 feet between the stage and the audience; all GALA staff will wear masks and gloves; bartenders will serve drinks in covered containers with straws; there will be a second bar outside on the garage roof for use at intermission.

We are protecting our artists/performers in the following ways: all artists will be tested for COVID regularly and will not enter the rehearsal room before results are known; designers and technicians will participate in tech rehearsals virtually; the set design incorporates plexiglass dividers that keep the actors safe, so basically they are performing behind plexiglass.

What have been the other consequences of not having live productions over the past months because of COVID-19?

When the pandemic hit, we cancelled the second half of our season, shuttering the theater. (we suffered a loss of over $280,000 in ticket income). But we continued to stay engaged with our audiences through virtual programming, like “GALA en Familia,” in which our artistic director interviewed Latinx artists and we showed clips of their performances, and “Leyendo con GALita,” in which artists read illustrated children’s books in Spanish online.

What else would you like DCMTA readers to know about GALA Hispanic Theatre?

If GALA cannot provide a space in which to nurture and promote the voices of Latinx artists, who will? And who will provide the bridge to the language and culture shared by so many diverse Latinx immigrants who call DC their home? The United States is the second-largest Spanish-speaking country outside of Mexico, yet there are very few professional theaters performing and creating in Spanish. We need to introduce our children and the public at large to writers like Lope de Vega who rival Shakespeare but are not household names. Only then can we help instill a sense of pride in our cultural identify and appreciation for the rich and varied cultural heritage that makes this city and our nation great.

GALA Hispanic Theatre’s production of El Perro del Hortelano (The Dog in the Manger) runs October 29 through November 22, 2020, at GALA Theatre, 3333 14th Street, NW (mezzanine level), Washington, DC, 20010. For tickets phone 202-234-7174 or purchase online.

See also:
GALA Hispanic Theatre announces 2020–2021 season and plans to reopen
GALA’s statement in support of Black Lives Matter
GALA’s Equity, Inclusion, and Diversity statement

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David Siegel
David Siegel is a freelance theater reviewer and features writer whose work appears on DC Theater Arts, ShowBiz Radio, in the Connection Newspapers and the Fairfax Times. He is a judge in the Helen Hayes Awards program. He is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association and volunteers with the Arts Council of Fairfax County. David has been associated with theater in the Washington, DC area for nearly 30 years. He served as Board President, American Showcase Theater Company (now Metro Stage) and later with the American Century Theater as both a member of the Executive Board and as Marketing Director. You can follow David's musings on Twitter @pettynibbler.


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