Yale Summer Cabaret’s ‘VERANO’ explores Latinx theatre

Danilo Gambini, Estefani Castro, Jecamiah M. Ybañez, Martin Montaner V. and Oakton Reynolds
The “VERANO” leadership team. From left to right: Danilo Gambini, Estefani Castro, Jecamiah M. Ybañez, Martin Montaner V. and Oakton Reynolds. (Photo credits: Elsa GibsonBraden)

Since Nov. 6, 1968, a tiny basement theater at 217 Park St. has been home to the Yale Cabaret where conversations about contemporary culture and society are staged through performance.

Founded by Yale School of Drama students, the Yale Cabaret has a legacy of producing plays, comedy shows, lectures, musical revues, and more. Artists who spent their Yale Drama days as members of the cabaret include Angela Basset ’86, Lupita Nyong’o ’12, and Meryl Streep ’75, among many other notable alumni.

Though the cabaret also operates during the academic year, the theater is well known for its robust summer season. Each year, a new student leadership team is selected to curate the Cabaret’s summer season, where a series of plays are performed on evenings throughout June, July, and August.

This summer’s season, “VERANO,” meaning summer in Spanish, features four shows playing at the Cabaret between June 6 and Aug. 17 that aim to create a dialogue about Latinx culture, identity, and belonging. It is the first full season of the Yale Summer Cabaret to be solely centered around motifs principal to the Latinx community.

The four featured plays are “Bakkhai,” based on the global classic play by Euripides; “The Conduct of Life,” by a Cuban-American author, “The Swallow and the Tomcat,” an adaptation of a Brazilian children’s novel, and “Latinos Who Look Like Ricky Martin,” a new Latinx-American comedy. The plays morph in scope, ranging from classical and American classical, to contemporary Latinx American.

The “VERANO” season was conceived and created by artistic directors Danilo Gambini and Jecamiah M. Ybañez, producing director Estefani Castro, managing director Oakton Reynolds, and director of production Martin Montaner V.

When the team began creating “VERANO” in the fall of 2018, the artists asked the question: What is Latinx theater?

It means something different for all of us,” Gambini said. “The expectations that America created for what a Latino should look like is not what I am. We are how we express it and how we live it.”

The team believes Latinx theater is created through interpretation, and molded by one’s artistic impulses, and not by social constructs of what it means to be Latinx.

No one has cultural authority,” said Castro. “Nobody is all-knowing of what it means to be a Latino. No one can be the arbiter of identity because it’s so personal to everyone.”

The Swallow and the Tomcat’

In “The Swallow and the Tomcat,” adapted by Gambini and fellow Yale drama student Emily Sorensen, the goal was to recreate the Brazilian’s children’s story in a way that is culturally relevant to pressures that people face every day.

The Swallow, a bird, falls in love with the Tomcat, and they desire to be married. But their relationship is against the rules of the garden because they are different animals. While the original children’s story is about animals in a garden dealing with the problems of love, it is relevant to many societal lessons like judgment and finding acceptance, said Gambini, who wanted to adapt the play in a way that reflects our present society and challenges the culturally embedded rules that all people can experience.

According to Gambini, the adapted play prompts the audience to think, “In society, who are the Cat and the Swallow? Who are the individuals in society that experience prohibition?” But the story is also culturally unorthodox because it doesn’t have a happy ending, he said. At the end of the play, the Swallow and the Tomcat are not able to be together.

[Happy endings] are embedded into our cultural ideas. It’s the proliferation of melodrama as the art form that we do. It’s the idea of wanting to endow children with this thought that you will always be on top,” said Ybañez. “What’s sophisticated about what plays like ‘The Swallow and the Tomcat’ are doing is they’re saying that’s not reality.”

The story insinuates that individuals will not always be guaranteed freedoms in their life, only the right to live, explained Ybañez, noting that if one doesn’t have the powers to change the rules and start the revolution, then one must live life as it is, which “is more human when it comes to the realities of living in the world.”

Latinos Who Look Like Ricky Martin’

VERANO’s” final play, debuting on Aug. 8, is “Latinos Who Look Like Ricky Martin,” directed by Ybañez. Originally written by Emilio Rodriguez, the play tells the story of three students fighting to save their Latinx student union. The argument that erupts between the students in the play is: Who is the most Latinx?

The play is suggestive of hierarchical systems within the Latinx community that deal with critiques of different expressions of Latinidad, said Ybañez. “There are leftover remnants of colonization seeping into the community, but in a theater that is culturally specific, we should have that conversation.”

Castro says a prior experience working on set with Mexican culture is what encouraged her to “critically analyze the choices made in a rehearsal room.” For Castro, “It was eye-opening to see how some people can take a culture and represent it in a way that’s disrespectful, so that activated me to dig deeper.”

For the leadership team of “VERANO,” the season is powerful because it’s in conversation with a micro-community, which they said underscores the impacts they want to have not only on the campus community but also on pushing the social abilities of theater and performance. “This can be a way that people who aren’t able to have a language, or talk to each other, can get a common ground to then discuss things,” said Reynolds.

The “VERANO” team invites all members of the community to partake in their artistry at the Yale Cabaret. For more information on the “VERANO” leadership, performance calendar, and tickets, visit the Yale Summer Cabaret.

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