Below are the 4 main themes we found through our qualitative interviews:
A Need for Profound Representation
Throughout our interview process, we noticed that several organizations and artists were expressed the need for cultural representation that is long lasting. They expressed some ideas for representation that could be helpful as our community partners start to develop more substantial partnerships. A particular artist expressed that representation can come in different ways, and can be as simple as bringing plays that relate to LatinX history and literature. An individual artist shared with us the following thought,
“Latinos may enjoy shows that convey symbolic and historical events that relate to them rather than abstract plays” – Individual Artist
“They could also bring plays inspired by novelas, and famous literary writers who are Latinos” – Individual Artist
Producing plays that attract the community would be the first step in trying to express cultural representation. But some of the organizations expressed that representation also includes having bilingual staff that the community can identify with, or hiring bilingual staff or community members. This also includes bringing the theater to the community and allowing for deeper artistic exposure. An interviewee shared with us the following thought,
“would like to see real action happen in which the theater engages with the community not just a “one year play”, but consistent work around the community like doing workshops, bringing Latin artist, giving the community the option between languages (providing Spanish and English material)” – Organization Representative
This idea of hiring community members and staff that resembles the population is a step towards more profound representation. But it has to go beyond that, the dynamics must change and the leadership must evolve from predominantly “white” to a more representative dynamic as one of the artists shared. Our community partners have a complex task at hand as our interviews revealed that catering to the LatinX community can be challenging. They have to consider the larger LatinX population and their needs, but also consider that among the LatinX community there exists multiple cultures, customs, and traditions that vary depending on the country they represent. Once the Hartford Stage can learn to navigate the diversity that surrounds the LatinX community, they will be on their way to developing a sense of representation that is more profound and can get past a superficial level. A particular representative from an organization shared the following thought,
“Although the participation of the LatinX community in the Hartford Stage is minimal, the few times that they might go there, it is important that they feel welcomed in their own city by seeing representation, and feeling like it is an inclusive environment” – Organization Representative
Embracing Spanish As A Cultural Component
In addition to representation, we discovered how important language is to the organizations and artists in the community. They treat language as something that can turn a space into a richer and welcoming environment. These organizations work very hard to include language options into their work because they are very interested in breaking down the language barriers that the LatinX community faces. Instead of seeing the barriers as a problem, most organizations embrace the language and are dedicated to creating multilingual spaces. One organization suggested the following,
“Make plays accesible to the language you are working with. Work on embracing different cultures and their languages” – Organization Representative
While providing material in different languages is a step that can lead to better responses and interaction with community members, it is important to consider and embrace the complexity of the language. As one of the artists we interviewed shared, she found herself going through different forms of Spanish as she was growing up because her house was more predominantly English. She was not necessarily fluent in Spanish growing up, but she knew,
“Church Spanish, to house Spanish, to dirty Spanish” – Individual Artist
It is important to recognize that when approaching the LatinX community and their needs, language is not viewed as something negative but rather a cultural component. It is important, as one of the organizations mentioned, that the LatinX community is not treated condescendingly just because they cannot speak English. We should keep in mind that providing services and translated material will help to build community spaces that are essential to allow the community to feel as if they are being treated with dignity and respect. One organization representative mentioned how important it is that,
“When people walk in they see people that look like them, speak their language, and are able to be treated with dignity and respect” – Organization Representative
Stances on Partnerships
In terms of partnerships, many of the organizations that we have spoken to have expressed interest in potentially forming partnerships with the Hartford Stage, while other organizations have expressed skepticism and are hesitant to the idea of creating a partnership.
Positive Opinions Regarding Potential Partnerships with the Hartford Stage:
For potential partnerships, many people talked about how they would like the Hartford Stage to be more communicative with their organizations about the events that they are hosting. Many organizations have expressed that this would allow them flexibility and time for them to let their organization and the people they serve know about events that are going on. One organization even mentioned to us that they would be willing to translate the information that the Hartford Stage would send in order to ensure that all people would be able to understand and decide if it is an event that they are interested in attending.
Additionally, many organizations and individual artists that we spoke to also expressed that they would love support from the Hartford Stage when it comes to displaying art. We spoke to individual artists that informed us that displaying their own individual art in Hartford can be expensive.
Furthermore, other organizations talked about the possibility of extending partnerships that include free/discounted tickets. The Hartford Stage already participates in a community partnerships that offer free/discounted tickets. Residents of Hartford can get free tickets to shows put on at The Hartford Stage through a partnership with the Hartford Public Library (includes all branches). Also, students at Capital Community College can buy two tickets for a discounted price of five dollars, and other college/university students can also receive discounted tickets with by presenting their student IDs. Organizations have brought the idea of extending offers like these through new partnerships. Such partnerships include, but are not limited to, high school student discounts, family bundle discounts or children’s admission discounts.
Finally, as an idea for a potential partnership, a student run organization that we spoke to mentioned that they would like to do Q&A’s with the actors/Hartford Stage staff when they are producing a show that is culturally relevant. This would allow for students of color to see representation and people that look like them on stage, and give them the opportunity to open up conversation and ask questions.
Negative Opinions Regarding Potential Partnerships with the Hartford Stage:
However, there are many organizations that were skeptical about the idea of forming partnerships with the Hartford Stage. Some organizations expressed hesitation when it comes to forming partnerships. Some organizations expressed skepticism about how committed they are to creating a partnership, and would only be interested if it would be a long-term commitment.
Some hesitations to forming partnerships with the Hartford Stage come from bad experiences with other primarily white art institutions. In an interview that we conducted, the representative of an organization told us a story about another time they were involved in trying to engage the LatinX community with an art institution. The project ended up failing, due to the fact that there was not enough commitment. The staff did not make enough strides to engage with the LatinX community. They suggested that if the Hartford Stage is serious about creating partnerships with LatinX based organizations, they must develop some type of institutional commitment. They explained that this should include a plan or visual to show organizations that they are serious, and what their partnership would entail.
Other organizations also shared similar views and described that they would need something that is similar to the idea of an institutional commitment. Another organization representative also mentioned that they did not want to form a partnership with the Hartford Stage just so that they are able to say, “we got a Latino”, and have that be the extent of said partnership. Despite skepticism, they expressed that they would like to see the theater open itself up to the community, and have long-term partnerships that benefits both organizations.
Throughout conducting interviews, we discovered that many members of the LatinX community in Hartford believe that there are many unwritten expectations regarding who goes to the theater, dress code, behavior, etc, which discourages them from attending events at the Hartford Stage. We learned that these unwritten expectations set a tone and make certain people feel like outsiders, or as if they do not belong.
In one interview that we did, the interviewee mentioned that they had attended a play at the Hartford Stage, but because of how expensive tickets were, they decided to purchase the least expensive option. While at the play, they realized they were one of the only people of color, and sat in a section that was only people of color. They also noticed that majority of white people had the best seats in the theater, and were dressed very nicely. The interviewee said,
“I felt out of place because of the color of my skin, what I was wearing, and how I presented myself at the theater in comparison to everyone else…”
An interviewee also brought up the idea that the Latinos of Hartford are too busy trying to make ends meet. Because of this, the interviewee mentioned that they do not have time or the resources to put their money into supporting art institutions or going to events when they would not necessarily even feel comfortable in the theater environment. They explained,
“The theater environment can sometimes be ‘snooty’… members of the Latin community may not feel that the theater is for them because they may not have the proper attire or know how to navigate the unwritten expectations or norms theaters tend to have…”
In conclusion, throughout our interviews we have analyzed that LatinX community members feel that there are unwritten rules, expectations, and norms when it comes to attending an event at any theater. Although no one has ever directly stated these expectations on theater etiquette, these beliefs are influenced through various factors that include ticket pricing, the crowd the theater attracts, the lack of representation of their culture, ultimately making members from the LatinX community feel like outsiders and not welcomed.