Latinx Shakespeares is both an archive and a monograph
is the first monograph devoted to Latinx theatrical adaptation.
Published by University of Michigan Press in 2023, it is available for purchase as well as open access.
Praise for Latinx Shakespeares
“Latinx Shakespeares offers a state-of-the-art account of Latinx themed, directed, and acted (re)performances of Shakespeare transacted in the last 25 years, greatly enhanced by Della Gatta’s respect for the many performers and directors with whom she enters into conversation. The book should be of particular interest to readers concerned about ‘the staging of difference of any kind in Shakespeare,’ which Della Gatta identifies with ‘the West Side Story effect’ in an opening chapter that alone is worth the price of admission.” —Thomas Cartelli, Muhlenberg College
“Carla Della Gatta’s Latinx Shakespeares offers a most welcome critical survey of how signal features of Latinx theatremaking—the theatrical use of language, sound, spectacle, social consciousness, cultural specificity—have guided, informed, and shaped myriad stagings of ‘Shakespeare’ over the last several decades. Della Gatta’s engagingly expert account details how ‘Latinx Shakespeares’ have evolved to become a constellation of reciprocally inflective practices that together activate a reimagining of how both Latinidad and Shakespeare play on the contemporary cultural stage. An invaluably illuminating book.” —Brian Herrera, Princeton University
“This impressive work intervenes at the intersection of two very important conversations—Latinx Studies and Shakespeare Studies—and makes a significant contribution to the field.” —Jon D. Rossini, University of California Davis
"Latinx Shakespeares supplies an authoritative and indispensable resource on theatrical uses of Shakespeare as a conduit for onstage explorations of Latinidad, and of Latinidad's aesthetic, creative, and critical futures as examined through dramaturgical engagements with Shakespeare." —Shakespeare Bulletin
In Latinx Shakespeares: Staging U.S. Intracultural Theater, each chapter is centered on a critical concept with productions as case studies. Together, the chapters form a larger case study of how Brownness functions theatrically.
Defining her terms, Della Gatta writes, "Latinx Shakespeares are textual adaptations or performances in which Shakespearean plays, stories, or characters are made Latinx through dramaturgy (integrating context into performance), aesthetics (including concept settings), processes for art-making (including casting), and/or modes of storytelling" (1).
The monograph illustrates that there is not one version of Latinx Shakespeares, and "Instead, the through line is a consciousness of cultural difference: in Shakespeare’s plays, he reveals such a consciousness, albeit flawed, and both this consciousness and many of its flaws repeat in contemporary American productions" (17).
The two overarching themes are division/intraculturalism and aurality. Della Gatta argues against notions of a divide between Shakespeare and Latinx theatre-makers and a "perceived oppositionality of Latinx and Shakespeare to implode the binary and relieve Latinx of the burden of being perceived as an (unequal) Other, on the Shakespearean stage and elsewhere" (17).
The introduction addresses the implications for staging Latinidad, as there are no Latinx characters in Shakespeare. The introduction includes early intersections of Shakespeare and Latinidad, including the short-lived Spanish Mobile Theater at the NYSF and the Festival Latino. It makes clear the range of dramaturgies does not draw a direct through line of white theatre-makers to Latinx, and progressive casting and concepts do not necessarily make progressive Shakespeares.
"Latinx Shakespeares were initially premised on division, but they have extended to dramaturgies that include Latinx history, Latinx and Indigenous rituals and ceremonies, issues of colorism and anti-Blackness within Latinx communities, and Latinx theatrical traditions. Latinx, by definition, are American. This is American theater" (21).
Division: The West Side Story Effect
Chapter 1 looks to the most popular Shakespearean adaptation worldwide, West Side Story. This chapter addresses the consequences of staging the character of Paris because of the racializing of Chino. The chapter claims that the staging of difference of any kind as cultural-linguistic difference, or ‘the West Side Story effect,’ has affected Shakespearean performance on a larger scale. The chapter addresses various iterations of the stage musical and both the 1961 and 2021 films, and it includes a genealogy and analysis of Latinx Shakespearean films.
"Because of West Side Story’s influence, what is “Other” in early Latinx Shakespearean productions is, in fact, not Latinx culture or any other nonwhite group, but the type of storytelling that does not include cultural or linguistic division" (43).
Aurality: Hearing Ethnicity
This chapter explores the recognition of Latinx onstage and argues that due to an instability of the visual—Latinx can be of any race—that aural excess, or auralidad, becomes a key signifier. The chapter explores a Latinx acoustemology for Shakespeare that includes language, accents, music, sound effects, silences, and noises. Looking at back-to-back productions at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, the chapter attends to acoustic dramaturgies such as cross-temporal code-switching for Shakespearean storytelling.
“Attuning to Latinidad provides recognition of representation, but it also moves an audience into the spaces of liminality. . . In the interstices of the two, or borderlands, an audience that might not otherwise encounter this linguistic experience of bilingualism is invited to be immersed in it for over two hours” (62).
Identity: Remapping Latinidades
Chapter 3 remaps the very definition of Latinx, and it addresses themes of colorism and anti-Blackness in adaptations that explore identity through process, aesthetics, and affect. Utilizing José Esteban Muñoz’s distinction between a “sense of brown” and “feeling brown,” the chapter extends Latinx Shakespeares to other cultures that have been made Brown. All three adaptations are set and were first staged in California, a state that is almost 40% Latinx.
"Latinx theater and performance scholars theorize Latinidad as a network of relationships grounded in heritage and an aesthetic rooted in certain creative practices, modes of engagement, and perspectives rather than a fixed identity to be represented through such signifiers as the Spanish language, life on the border, and assimilation motifs" (81-82).
Decoloniality: Theatrical Bilanguaging
This chapter applies Walter Mignolo's concept of bilanguaging, or living between languages, to the theatre. The three adaptations of Hamlet that are case studies explore coloniality through the resulting crisis of the self and a borderlands epistemology. The chapter distinguishes between anti-colonial, post-colonial, and decolonial strategies for the stage. Theatrical bilanguaging requires an integration of multiple languages, ceremony and theatre, changes to the dramatic structure, and a focus on rehearsal practices.
“The border between English and Spanish (linguistic), Latinx and white (cultural), and Shakespeare and Latinidad (power relationships) cannot be negotiated without an exploration of interiority, and the two twenty-first century productions feature Indigenous characters and knowledge as essential—socially, spiritually, dramatically, structurally—to Latinx identities and stories. . . These productions demonstrate three possible strategies for moving toward a decolonial, and perhaps reparative, future.” (130-31).
El Público: Healing and Spectatorship
Chapter 5 examines the strategies for building audiences and communities by artistic directors from both a Predominantly White Theater (PWI) and from a Theater of Color (TOC). Looking at two productions that moved outside the physical space of the theater, this chapter explores how arts leaders can integrate a movement toward ethnic theater within an established organization, and how these efforts can be a reparative act of worldmaking.
"The division that marked early Latinx Shakespeares is reframed in more current works as a mode of discovery. . . Through collaborative processes, diverse casts and artistic teams, these productions force a reconsideration of how publics situate Latinx in the United States. Collaborative reparative work can transform the division of the West Side Story effect into a bridge" (151).
Futures: Shakespearean Critical History
The subject of the last chapter is a creative-critical form of historical criticism generated through Chicanx speculative futurisms. Focusing on a singular adaptation, this chapter explores a Shakespearean history play that is reformulated to look to the future in order to critique Western dualism, racial and ethnic binaries, and Shakespearean modes of storytelling that dominate our past.
"A critical approach to history involves interrogating the past in order to produce judgment about the present, assessing how power structures may have shaped our personal concepts of identity and ways of thinking, and incorporating one’s identity and experience as tools of analysis of this past" (154-55).
"Shakespearean critical history understands that a linear historical narrative seemingly justifies (British colonialist) ethics but that futurisms demand a critical analysis of the present" (170).
The epilogue addresses the financial, theatrical, and social factors that artists and theaters of color encounter when staging Shakespeare. Most Latinx Shakespeares are not social justice theatre, and when art is reduced to “the political,” it is a detriment to the aesthetic and cultural value of art-making by artists of color. The book closes with the claim that Shakespeare can be staged as ethnic theatre as an act of inclusion in a world that seeks to divide.
"When art is judged based on social-political ideology, or determined as either a success or “failure,” this simple binary invokes the us-them mentality that performance, and performance criticism, works against. . . As the United States experiences internal polarization—political, economic, racial, ethnic—it becomes more and more important to attend to the sophistication of art as means to shape US identity rather than assume its simplicity as means to confirm our own complexity" (175).