Teatro ECAS Brings Spanish Theater to Providence


When Nancy Patiño and Francis Parra opened Teatro ECAS in 1997, they did so because they knew there were stories that were not being told and audiences that were not being reached. Parra, who is the company’s artistic and creative director, studied theater in Dominican Republic and was disappointed by the lack of options for Spanish-speaking theatergoers in Providence. “In those days,” she says, “you’d have to go all the way to New York City if you wanted to see a show in Spanish. There was nothing for us here.” It was with this in mind that Parra and Patiño decided to create ECAS, the first Spanish-speaking theater company in Rhode Island: “Our first show would be our test; if people came, we wanted to continue to offer theater to them.”

But their first show, a performance of Emilio Carballido’s Rosa de Dos Aromas, was derailed by a novice oversight (they neglected to solicit the help of security for the crowd), and their opening at Rhode Island College was cancelled. In preparing the production, ECAS struggled to find Spanish-speaking performers because they either knew too little Spanish or had never acted, and the show’s lead actress was in Providence from the Dominican Republic for only 10 days. After searching relentlessly, Parra and her team secured a last-minute venue for their two performances and opened the show on Broad Street in South Providence. “We had more than 150 people attend two performances that had been cancelled,” Parra says, brimming with pride after overcoming that obstacle-laden opening weekend. To Parra, the message was clear: “I knew there was an audience and a need for Spanish theater in Rhode Island.”

Since then, ECAS has continued to grow, and today, the shows sell out often and there is no shortage of thespians looking to perform. More than 150 actors have worked with ECAS through the years. The actors have all arrived on a variety of paths, including word of mouth, a casting call on the radio and the community outreach programs ECAS has conducted in the past two decades. José Luis Suazo, who has performed with Teatro ECAS for the past 12 years, considers their work instrumental to the community. “Spanish theater will help Latino youth to learn about their roots, their culture and their history,” he says. “Latinos born in America must be proud of being American, but they must also know the history and art of where their parents are from in order to be proud of those rich cultures.” The other actors agree. As Varsobia Gallego put it, “Our countries cultivate our culture, and that is part of what we want to share.”

Stephanie, who is Parra’s daughter, has grown up knowing the ins and outs of Teatro ECAS. “I was born in the theater,” she jokes, though the actors do acknowledge babysitting behind the scenes one or two times. Today, she operates sound and lights for the productions, having decided long ago that she preferred the technical work to acting. Still, she has appeared in seven plays, and next fall when she’s attending UCONN, she wants to participate in theater in some capacity, bringing along her years of experience with ECAS.

In 2015, ECAS secured a home in a small black box theater on Elmwood Avenue in South Providence, which has given them the freedom to produce more shows and performances, as well as to provide more programming for the community, like classes for youth. Over the past few years, they have conducted workshops for Central Falls High School, Classical High School and the Providence Career and Technical Academy. This summer, in collaboration with performers from Cuba, ECAS is offering summer programming in musical theater for children ages 7 to 12. For Parra, this has always been a vital component of ECAS’ vision: “We want to create a generation of Latino theatergoers because once those seeds are planted, theater will surge in our community.” Parra believes that community programming will create more opportunities for people who are just being introduced to theater.

Alma Perez came to ECAS in this manner; she learned about Teatro ECAS from her friends and offered to volunteer. She began working as an usher, and gradually made her way to performing on stage. She credits her work with ECAS with helping to build her confidence. Eddie Peguero agrees, comparing acting to therapy, saying the theater keeps him healthy.

Recently, Teatro ECAS has been focused on seeking opportunities to continue their growth. Through theater exchange programs, Teatro ECAS has had performances in Lawrence, Massachusetts, New York and even Cuba, and has hosted theater companies from Colombia, Ecuador and the Dominican Republic. Though Parra is proud of the success she and Teatro ECAS have found, she hopes that they are moving toward becoming a larger name within the arts community: “We don’t want to stop here — we want to continue to grow and have more people see our stories.”

Later this month, ECAS will host Gramsci Guzmán, a guitarist and composer from Lawrence, Massachusetts, in a tribute to Maestro Joaquin Sabina. This performance will take place on Saturday, July 28 at 8pm at 57 Parkis Ave, PVD. 

This fall, ECAS will produce La Criolla by Melida Delgado, El Rumor de la Sangre by Cesar Sanchez, and La Cuesta Mágica by Luis Castillo. For information on their fall season, go to ecastheater.org or facebook.com/teatroecas.

Para una traduccion al espanol, motifri.com/ecasspanish

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