Ideas to incorporate during National Hispanic History Month — and all year long
Aiming to include more Latinx works in your theatre program’s repertoire and classroom studies? Whether you’re looking to celebrate new stories or want to help your Thespians find that perfect monologue for their Thespy entry, here are several pathways to explore — during National Hispanic Heritage Month and throughout the year.
Create a Cultural Awareness Continuum
Take a few minutes and listen to Hedreich Nichols, a speaker, adult educator, and tech integration specialist, share her dream for cultural awareness in U.S. schools. A key component of her message:
“I would love for us as a nation to be a place where we don’t celebrate certain populations during certain months … I would love it if we recognize how heroes and scientists and mathematicians and musicians all look so different … and that they don’t have to be dead to be great.”
You can learn more about Nichols’ work and teaching approach on her website SmallBites.
Begin with Lin
In keeping with Nichols’ idea that “you don’t have to be dead to be great,” let’s start with playwright and actor Lin-Manuel Miranda. Even elementary students will recognize his work on such Disney hits as Moana, Vivo, and Encanto.
Miranda is perhaps the best-known modern-day Latinx playwright, having written the music and lyrics for In the Heights, which was first performed in 2005 on Broadway. The story revolves around characters in the largely Dominican-American neighborhood of Washington Heights in Upper Manhattan, New York City.
Miranda returned to Broadway 10 years later with Hamilton, another musical he wrote the music, lyrics, and book for, and in which he starred. The story is about one of the United States’ founding fathers, Alexander Hamilton. The show is about his life, love, and desire to leave a legacy for a nation. It’s fair to say that Hamilton has become a pop-culture phenom with music sung and rapped.
Miranda is only 43 years old (in 2023), and while that may seem “old” to your students, he’s quite young to have achieved so many awards — three Tonys, three Emmys, five Grammys, two Laurence Olivier Awards, a MacArthur Fellowship, and a Pulitzer Prize.
Your students might enjoy testing their Hamilton IQ with this quiz on Dramatics.org, opening the door to lessons on Miranda and other Latinx playwrights and performers.
Explore More Latinx Playwrights
Another modern-day playwright, Elaine Romero, is involved with Latinx Theatre Commons (LTC). LTC’s mission is, in part, “…to transform the narrative of American theatre, to amplify the visibility of Latinx performance making…”
As you work with high school students who are choosing monologues for the Thespy Awards, you can use the process to explore the topic of stereotyping and misrepresentation. Despite the good intentions of setting aside specific times, like National Hispanic Heritage Month, to celebrate certain population groups, the practice sometimes encourages stereotyping by focusing on only a few characteristics, foods, music genres, and achievements of that group during the month-long celebration.
While it’s a complex issue, with many layers to consider, you might use the example of West Side Story to discuss these issues with mature students. It’s been produced countless times on stages in schools, community theatres, Broadway, and even the silver screen since its 1957 Broadway debut.
Yet it’s controversial given the fact that non-Latinos wrote the music and lyrics, and because Rita Moreno (the iconic performer who served as an executive on the 2021 film remake) was the only Latina involved. Some actors, including Natalie Wood as Maria, wore brownface (yikes!).
Looking for more ideas? Be sure to check out our post on five musicals with a Hispanic heartbeat.