Noisy parades of Latino children, musicians and merry-makers will file up 18th St. NW several evenings this week in a celebration of the traditional "posada." If all goes according to plan, the event, sponsored by a growing Hispanic theater group known as GALA, Inc., will even have a burro to lead the way.
A posada is a traditional Latin Festival for children in which a boy and a girl, Playing Joseph and Mary in Bethlehem, search for room at the inn. (Posada translates as "a small inn or tavern.") The children go from door to door requesting shelter until someone lets them in, generally to a feast of candy, cakes, music and more dancing.
By prearrangement, the doors will open at The Scoop, a local ice cream dispensary, and at McDonalds. GALA, Inc., is an organization which aims to offer an artistic forum for the concerns of Latinos in Washington in ways relevant to their experience - hence the Americanization of GALA's posada.
The posada grew out of a workshop sponsored by GALA, which stands for Grupo de Artistas Latinamericanos. The workshop's leader, Delphy Vaznaugh, said, "I am interested in the movements of ordinary people and their daily experiences - the problems of trash on the streets and no jobs and the language."
Vaznaugh, giving an occasional artistic nudge, encouraged her class to evolve a scenario concerning the tribulations of one Latino immigrant, Jesus - a common name in Latin America - as he tries to cope with the culture shock of Christmas in America.
The 25-minute play, "Jesus Viene alBarrio," will precede the children's parade up 18th St. at 4 p.m. Saturday, Monday and Tuesday. Described as "una creacion colectiva comunal," it is indeed the offspring of the entire 15 members of the cast.
The music, drawing on folk material from a variety of nations, is played by a neighborhood group call Ruminsoneko. Dances range from authentic Peruvian, executed by Julio Sanchez in multi-colored costume, to pure 18th St., executed by the group. "We definitely all had a part in this," said Vaznaugh.
GALA's Hispanic theater was founded in 1975 by Hugo Medrano, an actor and director who had worked in his native Argentina, in Peru and in Spain before coming to the United States. Medrano, who formed a small Hispanic group at the Back Alley Theater in 1973, was also active with a number of community groups in the Adams-Morgan area. He combined the elements of a community group and an artistic group to create GALA.
"I want to get people involved in the problems of the community and of Latin America." Medrano said. "This is not in the political or the social sense, but through an artistic consciousness." Although the group has had some pressure to politicize its program, so far it has resisted, Medrano said. "We want to avoid Latin Revolutions in the theater," said Medrano with a smile.
"We want to reach as many people as we can," added his wife, Rebecca Read Medrano, who acts as general adminstrator, "even those who never come into the barrie."
Today, GALA, which has three paid staff members, is housed in its own converted townhouse at 2319 18th St. NW and has a full schedule of musical, theatrical, and visual offerings for the public as well as classes and workshops in threater technique. The small stage is frequently filled with touring musical groups, and GALA hopes to tie in withe two other Hispanic groups - Teatro Quatro in New York and Galaxy in Boston - so that groups can make a mini-tour of the Spanish speaking east coast. Mearano said. Photographic and Painting exhibits line the naural brick hallway, says Medrano "because we have a nice wall, and we don't like to waste space."
Refreshment are frequently served after a performance in a small space behind the stage. "We want the theater to be a easy exerience," said Vaznaugh.