In the last three years, Lin-Manuel Miranda has taken the theater world by storm with his multi-Tony Award-winning musical about Alexander Hamilton and the founding fathers. As Broadway’s hottest ticket – you literally could not buy tickets for months after it made its debut – Hamilton became as inescapable as the Kardashians, permeating pop culture in ways other shows could only dream of. The musical helped him become a household name and propelled his Hollywood career forward. (Lin-Miranda wrote the music for Disney’s Moana, and landed a role in the upcoming Mary Poppins movie.) While Miranda deserves all the success that has come his way, he’s hardly the only Latino making strides in the theater world.
Behind the scenes, there are many more Latino playwrights, composers, and lyricists making the theater world richer and giving our stories a platform. They may not be as big as Lin-Manuel Miranda (yet), but you’ll want to keep an eye on them.
Luis Alfaro is a Chicano playwright, whose latest show, Oedipus El Rey, ran at The Public Theater in New York until Dec. 3. It’s a reimagining of Oedipus Rex, but set in South Central LA with a Latino Oedipus. Alfaro has also adapted other Greek dramas, like Sophocles’ Elektra, which he transformed into Electricidad, a story that takes place within the household of a SoCal drug boss. Euripides’ Medea became Mojada: A Medea in Los Angeles.
His plays often focus on Latino characters and frequently tackle family drama and HIV/AIDS within the community. He strives to portray Latinos on stage because representation is scarce. “It’s hard to see yourself reflected very often,” he told NBC News. “We see our humanity in other people. But when do we get to see ourselves on the stage? Every night I see all these Latinos on stage, and I think ‘Oh my God. How cool is that?'”
One of his most interesting pieces is a 1990 solo show called Downtown, in which Alfaro explores queerness, Chicano identity, gentrification, and what a neighborhood is through a multi-character solo performance.
And if his résumé weren’t impressive enough, he also won a MacArthur “Genius Grant” back in 1997.
Quiara Alegría Hudes
Puerto Rican Quiara Algería Hudes is a Pulitzer Prize- and Tony Award-winning playwright and composer. She wrote the book for Lin-Manuel Miranda’s first Broadway show, In The Heights, which would go onto win the Tony Award for Best Musical in 2008 and was named a Pulitzer finalist. Her play, Water by the Spoonful, about an Iraq war veteran adjusting to civilian life won the Pulitzer Prize in 2012.
Her latest musical, Miss You Like Hell, sprung out of her discontent with her 2009 play 26 Miles. “It was one that I felt never lived up to its full potential,” she told American Theatre. “But the idea itself I thought had greater potential, so it was hard for me to it go.” The story, which follows an undocumented mother named Beatriz, is incredibly emotional, and one that we need as this community is vilified. As she’s on the verge of deportation, Beatriz goes on a seven-day road trip with her estranged 16-year-old daughter, Olivia.
If you’ve seen Brujos – an online web series about a coven of gay brujos – then you’re familiar with Ricardo Gamboa’s work. The award-winning queer playwright and activist from Chicago features transgenders characters, Latinos, and people of color in fantasy situations. Between the elotera-turned-assassin in La Elotera and a boy who can move objects with his mind in The Real Life Adventures of Jimmy de las Rosas, he’s creating characters you’ve likely never seen.
One of his most recent plays, Meet Juan(ito) Doe, tells the real-life stories of forgotten Mexican-Americans and immigrants in Chicago. Gamboa said, “Chicago is a city where Mexicans are everywhere – we’ve been here, and contributed so much to this city, but you really wouldn’t know it by looking at mainstream media or textbooks. Or stages.”
Fernanda Coppel is a gay Latina playwright born in Mexico and raised in California. She’s won the Asuncion Queer Latino Festival at Pregones Theater, the 2012 HOLA Award for Outstanding Achievement in Playwriting, and the 2012 Helen Merrill Award.
In 2012, her play Chimichangas and Zoloft premiered. It follows Sonia, who after her 40th birthday has fled to binge on prescription drugs and greasy food, while her daughter and her daughter’s best friend try to lure Sonia back. Her play King Liz about an ambitious sports agent, who needs to sign a volatile high school basketball player to take over her talent agency, premiered in 2015. It was later optioned by Showtime. Coppel said in 2010 that her “artistic agenda is to write as many roles for Latina’s as possible and increase Latina/o audiences.”
Raúl Castillo is a Mexican-American actor and playwright from McAllen, Texas, who has made his mark with roles in HBO’s Looking and Netflix’s Easy. As a playwright, his works have focused on Mexican-American life in Texas. His first play, Knives and Other Sharp Objects, premiered in 2009. It’s a multi-generational family drama about two sisters leaving their home in southern Texas to stay with richer relatives in Austin. His next play, Between Me, You, and the Lampshade, is about a woman and son whose life is upended when an injured undocumented immigrant breaks into their trailer in the Rio Grande Valley in south Texas. As the single mom cares for and hides the young immigrant, the secrets only make everything more complicated.
Tanya Saracho was born in Mexico and spent her life in Reynosa, Mexico and McAllen, Texas. After college, she moved to Chicago, where she founded Teatro Luna: Chicago’s All-Latina Theater. She stayed with the collective of women of color artists for 10 years before branching into other work. She has a wide range of plays, including Our Lady of the Underpass and El Nogalar, a retelling of Chekov’s The Cherry Orchard set in Mexico. The project came about because Teatro Vista wanted to stage a Latino retelling of a classic play. At a cocktail party, Saracho pitched the story. “I was like, ‘The most Latino playwright I encountered in college was Chekhov,’ and then someone took me up on it,” she told The New York Times.
Earlier this year, she staged her latest play, Fade, at New York’s Cherry Lane Theater. Following a Mexican-American TV writer and a studio janitor’s friendship, the story especially resonates with bicultural Latinos.
In recent years, she’s written for TV, including ABC’s How to Get Away With Murder and HBO’s Looking.
Octavio Solis is a Mexican-American playwright and director who has written more than 25 plays. The El Paso native’s most well-known play is probably Lydia, which follows a Mexican-American family and the maid who has come from Mexico to work for them and ends up completely upending their lives.
His most recent work, Alicia’s Miracle, premiered in 2015 and was a collaboration with the Center for Investigative Reporting, now Reveal. The investigation found legal loopholes that allowed dangerous chemicals to be used in strawberry fields in California, putting farm workers and those who lived nearby at significant risk of dangerous pesticide exposure. Solis created a one-act play about a pregnant woman in Oxnard who lives and works near the strawberry fields when she discovers something is wrong with her fetus.
Bonus: The Sol Project
OK, so this one isn’t a person. But if you’re interested in supporting Latinx playwrights and composers, The Sol Project is the place for you. It’s a theater collective specifically aimed at promoting and producing Latinx work. The theater initiative has seen the void of representation and is working to make sure there are more Latinx playwrights in the world. In May, it produced Martin Zimmerman’s Seven Spots on the Sun, set during Dirty War in Argentina in the 1970s.
December 8 at 6 a.m. ET: This piece has been updated. It previously stated that Zimmerman’s Seven Spots on the Sun was the collective’s next project. The collective produced the play in May.