For three decades, Goodman Theatre’s artistic priorities and educational programming have centered around three core values of Quality, Community and Diversity. The range of cultural and aesthetic diversity reflected on stage is attributed in large part to the theater’s Artistic Collective—the directors, playwrights and actors who help shape each Goodman season—including Resident Artistic Associate Henry Godinez. Cuban-born and Texas-bred, Godinez arrived in Chicago in the mid-1980s, co-founded the acclaimed off-Loop company Teatro Vista, and quickly amassed acting and directing credits across town. At the Goodman—where his impressive body of work includes two Karen Zacarías plays, Mariela in the Desert and The Sins of Sor Juana—he inaugurated the Latino Theatre Festival and was instrumental in bringing acclaimed international companies such as Cuba’s renowned Teatro Buendía,
Godinez reflects on the many notable Latinx (a gender-inclusive way of referring to those of Latin American origin, pronounced “La-TEEN-ex”) works at the Goodman, as well as his own time with the organization.
Michael Mellini: Your journey to becoming a member of the Artistic Collective is remarkable; tell us about that.
Henry Godinez: I first came to the Goodman in 1988, playing Tybalt in [late Associate Artistic Director] Michael Maggio’s Romeo & Juliet with Phoebe Cates and Michael Cerveris. Michael would become my mentor as an actor, director and teacher. I also played Fred in his production of A Christmas Carol that year, and was cast in the next play that season, The Rover. During that run, I met Eddie Torres, and together we started the theater company Teatro Vista. In 1994, I approached [Goodman Executive Director] Roche Schulfer about the possibility of a co-production with Teatro Vista, which eventually led to me directing José Rivera’s Cloud Tectonics in the old Goodman Studio in 1995. I was then asked to direct A Christmas Carol the following year, and was invited to join the Artistic Collective in 1997.
MM: Why is diversity so important to Goodman Theatre and its identity as a community arts organization in Chicago?
HG: Well, diversity and inclusion are important in theater because theater reflects who we are, all of us, and Chicago is a reflection of the world. We think of the Goodman as “Chicago’s theater,” and it’s always been important, certainly since Roche and [Artistic Director] Robert Falls have been our leaders, that the works on our stages reflect all of Chicago. Embracing our diversity, the inclusion of everyone’s experience in our city, state, country, and indeed, our world is our future and our strength.
MM: How has the Goodman put that idea into practice?
HG: Goodman has supported Latinx voices by first representing us on stage in roles that were not necessarily Latinx, which is especially important because audiences see shared humanity before race. Much more directly, Goodman invested in a long-term commitment to the inclusion of Latinx voices by producing Latinx playwrights like José Rivera, Luis Alfaro, Karen Zacarías, Luis Valdez and many others. When we moved to our current building in 2000, the Goodman supported the need to reconnect with the Latinx audiences we’d been developing at the old building by producing the Latino Theatre Festival. The festival gave us the opportunity to address the broad spectrum of the Latinx community in Chicago, and to showcase many local Latinx companies, like Teatro Luna, Urban Theater Co., Teatro Vista and Aguijón Theater Company, as well as Latinx artists from around the country and the world. Over the years, the success of the Latino Theatre Festival enabled us to integrate consistent Latinx programming into every season, avoiding the pitfall of marginalizing Latinx projects to only the festival. Now, because of consistent annual Latinx programming, the festival has evolved to focus on international collaborations, like with Teatro Buendía of Cuba, and special presentations.
Embracing our diversity, the inclusion of everyone’s experience in our city, state, country, and indeed, our world is our future and our strength.
MM: Why is it important to hear and see Latinx voices and artists on stage during our current moment?
HG: At a time in our country when many immigrants are being stigmatized and misrepresented, it is critical that audiences have the opportunity to see the lived realities of people with whom they must share the world, and are more likely to share similarities with, than differences. Theater, where audiences and actors literally share the same air, is the most effective way to instill empathy, something our nation greatly needs right now.
MM: What are some memories that make you proud of working at the Goodman as a Latinx artist?
HG: Luis Valdez’s Zoot Suit, the last regular season production in the old Goodman building, stands out; seeing so many new Latinx audiences fill that historic theater was incredible. Witnessing all the amazing national and international artists that came through the Latino Theatre Festival, interacting with our Chicago theater artists was wonderful as well. I’m especially proud to have great colleagues who enthusiastically embraced the challenges of every festival because they believed so deeply in its value.
Buy tickets and learn more about Destiny of Desire here. Tickets start at just $20!