Theatre on Common Ground adds flavor to Triad

by Lenise Willis

Ruth de la Garza, left, Jordan Frazier, Olivia Elias and Rocia Terry in Theatre on Common Ground’s Confessions of Women from East L.A. (photo by Shelby Panttaja).

Burritos, churros and chile rellenos are just as representative of Latino culture as America Ferrera’s performance in Real Women Have Curves. But what else do food and theater have in common? It was actually a case of food culture shock that inspired Winston-Salem resident Bryant Hernandez to found his own the- ater company to better target the Latin community.

“Everywhere I lived I was around Latinos all the time because in San Diego that was the majority,” Hernandez said. “I cook Mexican food all the time because I was taught by my mom and I needed to find the right ingredients. It was a culture shock when I first came to North Carolina.”

Hernandez said it was a local grocery store owned and operated by a Latino family that helped make him feel at home when he moved to Winston-Salem from California. Not only was he able to speak Spanish with the employees, but he was able to find more authentic ingredients for his Mexican recipes. “When I walked inside, I was like, ‘Oh my God, I’m in Tijuana,’” he laughed.

His entrepreneurial spark ignited one day when a cashier was surprised to hear that he worked in live theater and asked, ‘Does that still exist?’ “I’ve worked a lot with chicano, Latin theater and that actually helped me to figure out my roots,” said Hernandez, whose parents are both from Mexico. “I hadn’t even planned to stay in North Carolina, but because theater never existed for the Latino community [in Winston-Salem], and because in the Triad, it’s a growing population and there’s nothing for them, that’s what made me create Theatre on Common Ground. “In the Southwest, there has always been theatre for Latinos,” he continued. “Even Minnesota has it. Everywhere else seems to have it. But here in North Carolina there’s nothing.” But TOCG doesn’t just produce Latin theater; it is a diverse, multicul- tural professional theater that aims to offer the audiences new rich, bold experiences, no matter the ethnic origin.

Hernandez, who graduated from UNC School of the Arts last year, wanted to focus on a more diverse selection of plays and musicals in order to produce a wider range of theater for the Triad community. “One reason why I call it Theatre on Common Ground is because no matter who we are, whether we’re Latino, Asian, African-American, whether you’re from Poland, England, anywhere, what’s great about the United States is that we’re on common ground together,” Hernandez said.

TOCG’s first production is Josefina Lopez’s Confessions of Women from East LA, a humorous play that challenges the stereotypes of Latinas. The show consists of a series of poetic monologues by the West Coast women that give voice to their stories, imagination and inner-thoughts.

The four female actresses play a total of nine complex, unforgettable characters, including a woman with a PhD who teaches women how to be a “super Latina,” a tease who punishes men with her sexuality, a Latina who’s trying to pass for Japanese and a chicana activist fighting against racism and Proposition 187 — the “save our state” initiative. “Not only is this about Latina women, but it’s about women in general.

Any woman can relate to this. I have two Latina women and two AfricanAmerican women in the show. And what’s great about it is they relate to it, they relate to their characters.”

Hernandez warns that there are still a lot of Spanish in the show, but he explained that translating the dialogue would “lose the flavor.” “I have a feeling for a fact that there’s going to be some people that are not going to get the jokes,” he said, “but I feel like that’s okay because this is going to be something new that they’re going to be watching. My goal is to have a nice mix of people in the audience.”

wanna go?

Theatre on Common Ground presents Confessions of Women from East LA at Hanesbrands Theatre, 209 N. Spruce St., Winston-Salem June 7-26 (Previews June 7-10). Tickets $20-28. For tickets or more informa- tion call 336.747.1414 or visit