Teatro ECAS: Where people come to live their stories.

As a bilingual and bicultural Latina living in Rhode Island, learning more about Providence-based Spanish language theater, Teatro ECAS and interviewing Francis Parra Guerra, its Executive Artistic Director — in Spanish — was pretty amazing. As she highlights in our conversation, there’s nothing quite like connecting to all parts of one’s identity and roots — and this is what Teatro ECAS provides, for playwrights, directors, cast, and audience alike. 

Diving deeper into this 25-year-old arts entity also included a tour of their brand-new home. Bought by Teatro ECAS and renovated for use as a theater, educational space, and art gallery, with a soon-to-be opened café. The venue will debut with the stage play, “Jardïn de Otoño” (Autumn Garden). With Cuban actor, Francisco Gattorno as both director and actor, the show starts its run April 12. As Francis said, the cultures of “hispano-hablantes” (Spanish speakers) and Latin America are vast — and it’s this truth that permeates the theater’s productions and educational programming. 

Mayté Antelo-Ovando (Motif): Tell me a little about yourself and the new building.


Francis Parra Guerra: I am from the Dominican Republic and have lived in Rhode Island for 30 years. As executive artistic director of Teatro ECAS, I direct, produce, act in, and adapt plays. And now, after 25 years, for the first time, we’re moving into a permanent space. It will be the setting for stage productions, art exhibits, educational dialogues and conversations between artists and audience. We can have productions of all sizes, depending, really, on the enterprising spirit of the people putting on the plays. We’ve seen the push for staging plays with less, among playwrights (“dramaturgos”) and theater directors in other countries… they – we — want the audience’s imagination to soar, allowing for people to live the story; “el ser humano lo vive.” 

MAO: Exciting! How did the theater program and eventually non-profit-start?

FPG: Teatro ECAS started with the idea that we could have local Spanish-speaking actors, from Rhode Island, performing in our plays. And so, our purpose became to build a generation of people who love going to the theater, love “lo nuestro” (the Latinx culture), and love the Spanish language. The audience existed, and the need was there, but there weren’t people willing to risk stepping onto the stage yet. As a way to encourage adults to join me, I had to be actress, producer and director. And there were so many people that came to the shows: so many we’ve had to turn people away at the door. In our first shows we had about 150 people, and then that went up to 400! “O sea, al Latino le gusta el teatro” (I mean, Latin people love theater). And as we went on, parents wanted to see their children do what the adults on stage were doing, because the theater opens doors, not only in terms of acting, “el teatro cambia al ser humano,” (it changes a person), it provides a space to express yourself, and builds confidence.

Another way I tried to build momentum for the theater was to bring actors with me to places like NYC, where we’d see a play and they’d say, “I want to do that too!” In fact, there is a theater in New York that’s been in existence for 65 years called “EL Repertorio Español,” and in one trip we took 1,000 people to a show. (Teatro ECAS presents guest companies from NYC, Teatro Círculo, Repertorio Español and Teatro Milagro from Portland Oregon).

MAO: That’s incredible! So, 1,000 people who either speak Spanish or are fluent enough to go see a play in Spanish?

FPG: We learned from the theater company in New York, for every play we stage, we have supertitles in English. All of our works are translated to English, and it’s phenomenal to see, when someone who doesn’t speak Spanish is laughing at the same time as a Spanish speaker.

MAO: As a Latina, it makes me proud to know that these productions are completely in Spanish. What would you say is the vision of Teatro ECAS?

FPG: At the beginning, our vision was to introduce our culture to ourselves first, building awareness amongst Spanish-speaking people. Because when I take a play from Argentina, the culture is very similar to the one in Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, but when you read the words, the language being used is not the same. The Spanish language has such variations and that is our richness! Because for example, when someone sees a play and hears a word that is meant to be funny that they may not understand, the situation itself makes them laugh anyway.

MAO: And that’s how people learn.

FPG: Yes! And so, the Hispanic culture itself brings in such diversity, and we also seek to learn from the people themselves, who come to the theater from all over Latin America. Not every organization brings people from so many different countries together. We work with people from Cape Verde, Spain, Guatemala, Colombia, México, and we’ve had audience members who are Russian — married to a Latinx person — the diversity of Latin America is vast. The place, the stories, “el teatro tiene una magia” (the theater has a sort of magic), it’s a cosmopolitan place, “se abren las puertas a cualquier ser humano, solo hay que ser humano” (the doors are open to all humans, all you have to be is a human being).

MAO: The vision then, is to educate ourselves and others.

FPG: That’s right, like the story of the three sisters — “Las Hermanas Mirabal”.

Francis shared the story of these sisters, subjects of the book “Vivas en su jardín” (Alive in their garden), by Dedé Mirabal, which she adapted for the stage. The Dominican author was sister to the “Hermanas Mirabal,” also known as “las mariposas” (the butterflies). Patria, Minerva and María Teresa actively opposed the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo, and were killed for their participation in the anti-Trujillo movement that would eventually lead to the collapse of his regime. They were assassinated on November 25, 1960, their deaths making them “symbols of both popular and feminist resistance (Rohter, L., 1997, NYT).” According to Francis, their killings “marked a milestone” (“hito”) that sent a message to the world about respecting women and non-violence (the UN General Assembly designated the date of their death International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women).” 

FPG: Why are there so many immigrants from the Dominican Republic in the United States? People don’t know that in the ‘60s, about 50,000 Dominicans died, and people had to flee because they were in danger. After Trujillo was killed, young military officers revolted and days later the DR was invaded by the US. This led to more Dominicans leaving, and the US opened its doors to them. Humans, by virtue of being human, migrate! And if they’re in danger, they seek safety. It’s through these stories that the learning happens — it allows for people to have a better understanding of why certain things are the way they are. We tell stories from Mexico, Puerto Rico, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Peru, Spain, Cuba, all over.

MAO: Bolivia is missing there (I say with a smile, because I’m Bolivian-American).

FPG: Yes, you’re right! And you know, Bolivian culture calls to me, especially thinking about Che Guevara, about “El Salar de Uyuni” (Salt Flats in Uyuni)… and you’ve pointed something out there: It’s missing and needed, especially because there is a Bolivian community here; and if we want everyone to come, we have to include their stories as well.

MAO: As closing, what would you say is the mission of Teatro ECAS, in your own words?

FPG: We need to transform our society in the US, empower young people who are performing, and build trust with our community so that Teatro ECAS will continue to thrive. We support young people; they find their roots here and that drives them to keep studying and achieving. I have many stories of youth who had no idea what they wanted for their future, and eventually found their footing in this space. People say, “Oh I’ve never done theater before, I’m embarrassed,” but when someone has “el dominio del habla” (mastery of a language), knows how to communicate, and lets themselves be guided onto the stage, then eventually the confidence comes. And once it does, they don’t want to let that feeling go. That’s why we typically have a cast of about 17 people, who are permanent members of the company, of all ages, from 14 to 75 years old (Americans, Dominicans, Puerto Ricans, Venezuelans, Colombians). Our 75-year-old actor is the happiest and most charming of all.

Come see Francisco Gattorno, acting in and directing the comedy “Jardín de Otoño,” with Juana Diaz, Varsovia Acosta, Emeyra De Jesús and José Luis Suazo — all happening in Teatro ECAS at 679 Valley St, PVD (April 12 – 15, April 27 – 30).

For more info on theater events, follow them on Instagram @ecas_theater or visit their website: