"In this country, language becomes a big hassle," Sanchez frankly asserts. "My audiences may go to shows at Area or New Theatre, but it doesn't work the other way around. New Theatre and Area audiences are afraid they won't understand the production if they don't understand the language. But good theater is good theater, and you don't need to understand the language to understand that."
While it's true that opera lovers may enjoy hours of theatrical spectacle without comprehending a word of Italian, German, or French, it's a bit of a stretch to expect an audience to extract much from language-based drama presented in a foreign tongue they don't understand. And while New Theatre artistic director Rafael de Acha acknowledges Sanchez as a "pioneer" and the IHTF as "something magnificent, a real asset to the community," he notes that "an ongoing concern for all of us in theater is getting audiences." Yet MDCC's Garay echoes Sanchez's sentiments. "I've had the opportunity to go to international festivals from Brazil to Granada [Spain]," she explains. "It's absolutely common for audience members who don't speak the language to see theater in other languages, and I mean Russian or Swedish, not just Spanish or English. There's a desire to see the way artists in different parts of the world function. And usually comprehensive synopses are provided."
Sanchez offers this example of how his initial optimism about audiences has turned realistic over time: "About ten years ago, I had a brilliant idea for integration. We did an ethnic theater festival -- one Jewish drama, one black, one Hispanic, all one-acts -- for three consecutive years. It didn't work. I tried presenting in Little Havana -- no Anglos or blacks would come. At the Museum of Science -- no blacks. Downtown -- no Anglos." The idea is still an inspired one, and the city, after all, has become more conscious of itself as an artistic center since that time. Would Sanchez consider trying it again? "Not without funding," he replies without hesitation.
In ten years, Sanchez has taken a local theater fest and built it into a world-class event right in our own back yard. This year's offerings include two English-language productions (Marisol, Casting), as well as music, dance, puppetry, and the cinematic festival opener, Matecumbe, all of which translate well to a variety of audiences. Theater lovers of all persuasions should take advantage and go.