PUENTE Theatre's mandate is to use theatrical experience as a bridge between cultures.
Our objective is to express the immigrant experience while striving for the highest artistic standards. We endeavour to foster respect for the cultural heritage that immigrants bring to our new homeland, and to facilitate the integration of newcomer artists into the local theatre environment.
PUENTE's goals are:
- to offer work and creative development opportunities to immigrant artists.
- to create a multi-ethnic network of immigrant artists and resources, designed to attract and engage newcomers.
- to develop Canadian audiences, and educate them about aspects of the immigrant experience.
- to expose Canadian audiences to works from other cultures.
- to expose immigrant artists to Canadian theatre.
- to build community through collaborative projects.
- to act as an information resource for other organizations and agencies regarding theatrical works from other cultures.
- to use theatre to explore social issues including, but not limited to, those relating to race and culture.
PUENTE pursues these goals through:
- the creation, production and performance of theatrical works, which explore and relate the experiences of immigrants to Canada.
- the production and performance of theatrical works from other cultures.
- the translation of theatrical works from other cultures.
- the touring of locally developed projects for provincial, national and international audiences.
- the use of alternate forms of theatrical presentation, such as workshop productions, readings, and Forum performances, which facilitate dialogue on community issues.
- workshops, training courses, mentorships and other programs whose goal is to support and encourage the participation of immigrant theatre people in the Canadian theatre scene.
- the invitation of theatre personalities from other countries (e.g.. Mexico, Chile, Cuba, Brazil) for local workshops and trainings.
- active communication with theatre artists from other countries (largely in Latin America, but also including India, England and Japan).
PUENTE Theatre Society was founded in 1988 by Chilean-born director Lina de Guevara, an immigrant to Canada, out of her own need to tell her story through theatre, and to connect with the arts in her new country. Puente is a Spanish word meaning 'bridge'.
PUENTE has produced a great number of original plays such as: I Wasn’t Born Here, Crossing Borders, Canadian Tango, Familya, Sisters/Strangers, Of Roots and Racism, Theatre Against Racism, Act Now Against Racism, Storytelling Our Lives 1, Story Mosaic, Letters for Tomas, Storytelling Our Lives 2, Shining Through, Heinz 57, and With Open Arms.
PUENTE has collaborated with other organizations - such as the Full Spectrum Arts Society, The Inter-Cultural Association, Media-Net, Open Space Cultural Centre, Cinevic - in the production of plays from other cultures. Collaborative plays produced include: The House of Bernarda Alba by F.Garcia Lorca, Evita and Victoria by Monica Ottino, and Pastorela de Juan Tierra el Inmigrante by Jaime Silva. Some of these plays have been translated locally; other local translations include Something in the Air, Pereira Declares and Madame Mao.
Every year, PUENTE, in collaboration with the Belfry Theatre, produces Wordplay, a series of staged readings of plays from around the world.
PUENTE’s work has been the subject of several videos, including Creating Bridges, Changing Rhythms, Like Father - Like Son, Rosa’s Story and Changing Steps. Numerous articles have been published in Alt Theatre, Canadian Theatre Review, and Artichoke about the artistic experience in this culturally diverse theatre group, such as It Takes One to Know One, Sisters/Strangers: a Community Play, Wordplay: Creating Connections through Play Readings, and The Pastorela Festival in Mexico City.
PUENTE productions have appeared at the Victoria Fringe, Vancouver Fringe, Women In View), Harrison Hot Springs, Canadian Popular Theatre Festivals in Edmonton and Guelph), and in international festivals such as the Theatre of the Oppressed (Rio de Janeiro and Toronto) and Hispano American Festival of Pastorelas (Mexico City). PUENTE has participated in theatre conferences and workshops such as Taller de Pastorelas (Tepic, Mexico), Comunidad 98 (Havana, Cuba), and Theatre of The Oppressed, with A. Boal (Manitoulin Island and Seattle). Because of PUENTE’s prestige, its founder director, Lina de Guevara, was invited to be a keynote speaker at the IDEA (International Drama Educators Association) Conference in Ottawa, July 04, and to teach at the United World College of the North West in New Mexico in November ’04 and at the Instituto del Teatro, Teatro Vision, San Jose, California in July ’05.
Because of its location and small population, Victoria presents special challenges in terms of promoting diversity in the Arts. We try to circumvent these challenges through our programming, by employing immigrant theatre professionals every time we are able to, and by creating and presenting theatre from the many cultures that form the Canadian mosaic. We fulfill an important role in our community as Victoria’s immigrant population increases steadily and, we believe, needs to be represented in the performing arts. PUENTE is the only theatre in Victoria with the specific mandate to express the experiences of immigrants to Canada.
PUENTE has built and maintains a trained core of culturally diverse theatre artists in order to continue, enhance and expand our programming. We have successfully mentored several immigrant and First Nations women artists, and helped them express their unique experiences in the broader Canadian arts milieu. PUENTE has developed a strong presence in Victoria and the wider province, accessing and nurturing new audiences, and continually pursuing new works.
PUENTE works in close contact with the Intercultural Association (ICA), and with the Victoria Immigrant and Refugee Centre Society (VIRCS), which support immigrants in their integration into our society. We have collaborated on many projects, such as storytelling workshops, training in the use of theatre for anti-racism education, and workshops to help families adapt to Canadian society. We are in demand by schools, Camosun College, the University of Victoria, and community groups to carry out multicultural presentations, anti- racism education, and promotion of diversity.
PUENTE collaborates with a number of theatres in Victoria with an interest in diversity, such as the Belfry Theatre, Merlin's Sun, Spilt Milk Theatre, Story Theatre Company, The Canadian College of Performing Arts, Spectrum Arts Society, and Cinevic.
PUENTE has designed and implemented several programs for the educational system, at elementary and middle school (Story Mosaic, Winter Tales and Spring Tales), Middle and High School (Act Now Against Racism and Heinz 57) and University level (Heinz 57 and Uthe/Athe). We have prepared shows focused specifically on immigrant women's issues such as I Wasn’t Born Here, a VIDA Theatre project on family violence, Sisters/Strangers, and a multi-year series of community-generated plays: Storytelling Our Lives. These shows have been organized and presented for women’s organizations across the province.
Storytelling Our Lives has been a successful, innovative and collaborative project between professional theatre artists, immigrant women, and immigrant-serving organizations in seven cities in British Columbia. As with many of our projects, we used theatre as a non-threatening means to create an understanding, caring and safe and supportive environment for all. Storytelling Our Lives is an example of how our work raises public awareness of the contributions of immigrants to Canadian cultural and artistic expression. It promotes culturally diverse creative opportunities for minority performers, writers and musicians to present their work to wider audiences in smaller population centres in BC, where these opportunities are rare or nonexistent. We have opened up avenues for ongoing participation in the arts with immigrant communities far beyond Victoria.
Over the years, our mandate has kept us in close contact with the immigrant community in Victoria, and now also across British Columbia, and with all those interested in diversity in the Arts. In doing so, we are able to convey a visceral understanding of the immigrant experience that we hope will continue to promote cross-cultural tolerance, appreciation, and celebration in our neighbourhoods and communities
Acknowledgment of Support
Over the years, PUENTE has been awarded grants from many organizations and agencies, such as the Canada Council for the Arts, the Department of Canadian Heritage, the Capital Regional District, Multiculturalism BC, the BC Arts Council, the Federal Ministry of Health and Welfare, Manpower and Immigration, the Vancouver Foundation, 2010 Legacies ArtsNow, and the Victoria Foundation.
In the past four years, our work has expanded in no small part thanks to a continuous Capacity Building Grant from the Canada Council for the Arts, an indication of the Council's strong confidence in PUENTE. We also deeply appreciate the vote of confidence given us by the Capital Regional District, who supports us with operating funding. These grants have strengthened our organization and have allowed us to continue creating projects.