The 2018 ALTA Awards: A Night of Celebration for Latinx Artists

Pictured: The core team of organizers for the ALTA Awards being thanked by Isaac Gomez, co-Creative Director of the Awards (the other co-creator Nancy Garcia Loza).

“Just look at this turn-out! And we’re only 15 minutes into the night. Like WE’RE always running late!” – Laura Alcalá Baker, casting director and artistic programs manager at Victory Gardens.  The crowd attending the ALTA awards that evening at Victory Gardens Theater had packed the lobby barely 20 minutes into the cocktail hour!

ALTA – the Alliance of Latinx Theatre Artists in Chicago hosted its first ever Awards Show last Monday evening. ALTA is a crucial, “service organization dedicated to furthering the Chicago Latinx Theater movement by promoting, educating, representing, and unifying Latinx identified artist and their allies.” All of the love inside that fully packed house at Victory Gardens Theater was proof of just that. So much love that everyone clapped for every single nominee when their name was read as well as the winner, for each category.

Last Monday evening was vital not just for the Latinx theatre community but for the Chicago theatre community as a whole. To Debbie Baños, the ALTAs, “mean a lot more people are going to get recognition for work they have been doing all along. If no one else is going acknowledge us, we have to do it ourselves.”

The ALTA Awards wasn’t just an evening of celebration for the Latinx identifying theatre artists, it was also a call to action for the rest of the Chicago theatre community. Compared to other major theatre award shows in Chicago, how often do we see the multitude of talent and disciplines represented? The work that was celebrated last Monday is important particularly in an Anglo dominated industry. This work celebrated at the ALTAs had been long overlooked by other major theatre awards (ie. The Jeff’s). The ALTAs highlight Latinx artists and their work in ways that other major theatre awards just can’t. Who can better highlight our community than ourselves? As my Mamá (grandmother) says, if you want something done right, do it yourself.

The ALTA Awards are an evening curated by Latinx artists for Latinx artists. The Co-Creative Directors of ALTA, Isaac Gómez and Nancy García Loza outlined their intentions for the event: “We wanted to uplift those our community has deemed outstanding, and to celebrate LatinXellence in a way that has yet to be seen in other large annual awards institutions. ALTA members, not a committee or panel of judges, submitted nominations and votes, and the results of that tally will be revealed and celebrated this evening.” To even further level the playing field for potential winners, the tallies were counted by ALTA members and a third party.

It was amazing to see all theatrical disciplines represented, instead of the typical Best Actor/Actress. The ALTAs didn’t conform to the binary, except when there was a tie. Some stand-out categories include Outstanding Art Specialization and the four Legacy Awards which honor four artists, mentors, activists, and advocates who have paved the way: the Luis Alfaro Leadership Award, the Migdalia Cruz Mentorship Award, the Luis Valdez Arts Activism Award, and the María Irene Fornés New Play Award.  See below for categories and winners for the ALTAs.

“For so long, as someone that was born and raised in Chicago, I felt so frustrated and alienated even within Chicago Latino theatre because of the fact I never saw stories represented where I come from, and our communities. So often it was transplant Latinos’ stories and transplant Latinos running the city. Even the Chicago Latino theatre scene. I think one of the things that this marks and what these awards mark is not just the first time that I feel welcomed and even a part of Chicago’s Latino theatre community, but the emergence of a new Chicago Latino company that embraces the breadth of who we are and what we have to offer. And all the different ways that we can make those offerings and all the different types of brown people and Latinos that can belong in that world.”-Ricardo Gamboa

The ALTAs was a giant party for some, and a reunion for others- with complimentary margaritas. Everyone in attendance was literally dressed to the nines. Everyone, and I truly mean everyone, looked straight FIRE on Monday evening. Like better than what we see E! News report on the red carpet kind of fire.

Although the evening was a celebration for how far we have come, we can’t lose sight on what’s happening not just in our city, but in the rest of the world. Especially right now. Kristiana Rae Colón (winner of The María Irene Fornés Legacy New Play Award for “Tilikum”) reminded us to remember where we are, and the work we have to do. “These stories aren’t an end. They are a means. Beyond these stories, we have to work.” Isa Arciniegas (winner of the ALTA for Outstanding Actor in a Principal Role in a Musical for “We’re Gonna Die”) encouraged us in her thank you speech, delivered by Melissa DuPrey, to talk about what’s going on in Venezuela. “Our people are in trouble. We need to help. Use your voice to tell others what is happening in Venezuela.”

The first ALTA Awards was a night to remember. A night to acknowledge mi gente, our work, each other, y la cultura. Hope to see you next year at the ALTAs!

The winners of this year’s  ALTA Awards:

Outstanding Storyteller – Jasmin Cardenas for “Am I, or Am I Not the Keeper of My Brother?” 
Outstanding Solo Performance – Nancy García Loza in “Eckhard Park Echoes” at Collaboraction
Outstanding Improvisor – TIE – Ana Silva and Diego Sanchez
Outstanding Choreography – William Carlos Angulo for “La Havana Madrid” at Teatro Vista with Goodman Theatre
Outstanding Fight Choreography or Intimacy Design – Gaby Labotka for “A Story Told in Seven Fights” at the Neo-Futurists, “Dontrell Who Kissed the Sea” at First Floor Theater, “Hamlet” at The Gift Theatre
Outstanding Costume Design – Uriel Gómez for “The Madres” at Teatro Vista
Outstanding Lighting Design – Marcela Muñez and Augusto Yanacopolous for “Animales Nocturnos” at Aguijón Theater
Outstanding Sound Design – Sarah D. Espinoza for “The Displaced” at Haven Theatre
Outstanding Prop Design – Augusto Yanacopolous for “La Muerte y la Doncella” at Aguijón Theater
Outstanding Projection/Visual Design – Alberto Mendoza for “The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Diety” at Red Theater Chicago
Outstanding Scenic Design – Regina Garcia for “The Rembrandt” at Steppenwolf Theatre Company and “Fade” at Teatro Vista with Victory Gardens Theater
Outstanding Artistic Specialization – Stephanie Diaz for Puppet Design in “Anna Karenina” at Lifeline Theater
Outstanding Director of a Play – Ana Velazquez with Ricardo Gamboa for “Meet Juan(ito) Doe” at Free Street Theater
The María Irene Fornés Legacy New Play Award – Kristiana Rae Colón for “Tilikum” at Sideshow Theatre Company with Victory Gardens Theater
Outstanding Musical Production – “The View Upstairs” at Circle Theatre Chicago
Outstanding Musical Direction – Michelle J. Rodríguez for Vocal Direction and Roberto Carpacho for Band Direction for “La Havana Madrid” at Teatro Vista with Goodman Theatre
Outstanding Original Music in a Play – Coco Elysses, Melissa DuPrey and Joyce Liza Rada Lindsey for “Tilikum” at Sideshow Theatre with Victory Gardens Theater
Outstanding Director of a Musical – Jon Martinez for “The Church of Modern Love” at With a Machete Productions with Haven Theatre
Outstanding Ensemble – “La Havana Madrid” at Teatro Vista with Goodman Theatre
Outstanding Sketch Ensemble – TIE – Generation Latinx at iO and Dominizuelan
Outstanding Improv Ensemble – Generation Latinx at iO
Outstanding Production of a Play – “La Havana Madrid” at Teatro Vista with Goodman Theatre
The Luis Alfaro Legacy Leadership Award – Nancy García Loza at ALTA
Outstanding Casting Direction – Stephanie Diaz at The Chicago Inclusion Project and 16th Street Theater
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Play – Hannah Gomez in “Plantation!” at Lookingglass Theatre Company
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Musical – Selene Pérez in “The View Upstairs” at Circle Theatre Chicago
The Migdalia Cruz Legacy Mentorship Award – Isaac Gómez at DePaul University
Outstanding Performer in a Sketch or Review – Marvin Quijada in Sound & Fury
Outstanding Actor in a Principal Role in a Musical – Isa Arciniegas in “We’re Gonna Die” at Haven Theatre
Outstanding Actor in a Principal Role in a Play – Karen Rodríguez in “The Displaced” at Haven Theatre
Outstanding Stage Management – Cassie Calderone for “Pass Over”, “BLKS”, and “Straight White Men” at Steppenwolf Theatre Company and “Lettie” at Victory Gardens Theater
The Luis Valdez Legacy Arts Activism Award – Albany Park Theater Project

The ALTA Team: 
Creative Co-Directors: Isaac Gomez, Nancy García Loza
Co-Director of Marketing & Communications: Lucas Garcia
Co-Director of Marketing & Communications: Angelica Acebedo-Frint
Director of Digital Media: Daniel B. Esquivel
Director of Networking & Partnerships: Cruz Gonzalez-Cadel
Membership Coordinator: Ryan Oliveira
Carnaval Summer Intern: Dolores Díaz, Matteo Hernandez

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