Ernesto and Sandra Garcia are dreamers who have learned, of necessity, how to transform creative ideas into reality with very little money. Since winning a visa lottery that brought them to Miami from Cuba in 1995, the Garcias have started a clearinghouse website for Spanish-language theater worldwide, created their Teatro en Miami Studio above a Little Havana tire shop and, in 2010, launched a festival to celebrate made-in-Miami theater en espanol.
Not that any of this has been easy. Playwright and director Ernesto Garcia, whose Drume negrita will have its world premiere on Friday, is usually as determined as his optimistic wife. But he does admit that sometimes, on his darkest days, "I feel that I am plowing in the ocean."
Nonetheless, this week brings TEMFest 2012, the third edition of the Garcias' Miami-centric festival. It launches Wednesday evening with a big free party and awards ceremony in the OnStage Black Box Theater at Miami-Dade County Auditorium. Director Eduardo Corbe, actress Marta Velasco and playwright Jose Abreu Felippe will be honored with the festival's Baco Award for their years of contributions to theater, artist Yovani Bauta's festival poster will be unveiled, and the theater artists whose work will be showcased over the festival's three weekends will be introduced, mingle and dance to the Luyano Band -- no stodgy kickoff speeches for TEMFest.
This year's festival features six premieres -- two from Teatro Viento de Agua and Gala, companies new to Miami -- and the others from the Garcias' Teatro en Miami, El Ingenio Teatro, Havanafama Teatro Estudio and the Maroma Players. A storytelling evening, a free book presentation and a free children's festival day augment the theater offerings, which have tickets priced at a value-conscious $20 per show.
The aim, says Sandra Garcia, isn't to rival the long-established International Hispanic Theatre Festival. That monthlong gathering happens each July and focuses mainly on bringing companies from all over the world to Miami, in addition to showcasing the work of festival artistic director Mario Ernesto Sanchez's Teatro Avante and Miami Dade College's Teatro Prometeo. Garcia calls Sanchez "an inspiration for us" and adds, "We don't want to compete with anyone. We just want to bring in more people [to see this work]."
Ingenio Teatro director Lilliam Vega, who is staging Raquel Carrio's new play Leyenda at Hoy Como Ayer on the opening weekend, calls the Garcias "great leaders, excellent producers, tireless teachers and hardworking directors of a festival that seeks to bring all types of artists together, offering them equal support in their endeavors." She credits TEMFest with encouraging more stylistic diversity in local Spanish-language theater.
Vega, who has worked in Miami for 15 years and staged a number of plays by Carrio, says Leyenda is inspired by Carlos Felipe's Requiem por Yarini. The play features Daisy Granados as an aging actress who endures hard times while hanging onto her passion for life and love. The playwright, Vega says, crafts "incredibly imaginative stories, filled with such depth and modernity that they capture my interest from the very first moment. She provides to the entire production a continual challenge that ... encourages artistic growth all the way to the day of the premiere."
Teatro Viento de Agua founders Boris Villar and Maribel Barrios are Cuban theater artists who have lived in Mexico and Argentina, arriving in Miami seven months ago. They created No vayas a llorar, three monologues about people separated from their loved ones by economic or political situations, and Barrios has performed the play in Mexico, Spain, Brazil and Argentina.
The play, Villar explains, evolved through improvisations and from the couple's own history. While teaching and creating plays in Mexico, they got interested in history and its effect on individuals.
"We have a lot of family and friends from childhood living so far from us, not only in Cuba but also here in the States and in other parts of the world," he says. "There were powerful feelings of separation in our hearts, and we felt bad about it. We had to express [those feelings]."
Ernesto Garcia's Drume negrita is also a play featuring three linked monologues. One is delivered by a drug-addicted, alcoholic mother; the second by a perceptive prostitute; the third by a frustrated transvestite. The playwright says he chose to craft soliloquies "to emphasize the solitude of the human being in an urban environment."
Garcia sees Miami as the city of Hispanic theater in the United States and that he hopes TEMFest will "erase barriers of language, ethnicity and become in a few years an essential Miami theater festival -- be universal and beautiful, like music."
His wife has even bigger ambitions for the festival. She'd like to invite the region's English-language companies to participate, and she wants to get Spanish-language companies from Los Angeles, New York and Washington involved as well. The budget will have to grow from this year's $35,000 (much of that from in-kind donations), but that's just one more challenge for a couple driven by "passion, commitment to the artists and to our community," Sandra Garcia says.
"Local theater isn't limited," she adds. "Imagine what we can do in our 10th edition!"
Then she laughs and says, "I drink too much Cuban coffee."
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