H I S T O R Y
Theatre by, for, and about immigrants, based in Victoria and touring the world.
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’.
The history of Puente Theatre begins with its founder, Lina de Guevara. Born and raised in Chile, Lina had to leave a promising theatre career in her home country in order to escape the violence and unrest during the military overthrow of the socialist government of Salvador Allende. After a long journey, she and her family arrived to live in Victoria in the late seventies. Finding little room in the cultural life of the city for her talents, Lina set out to make her own work instead of waiting to be accepted by the local establishment. Her first project, “I Wasn’t Born Here,” was collaboratively created with six women refugees from Latin America, who told their stories with the visceral intensity of lived experience. With that production, Puente Theatre was born: the first Latinx theatre company in the country.
Soon, Puente expanded its mandate to encompass immigrants from all cultures, and also developed a strong connection to Indigenous artists from Canada and throughout the Americas. For the next 23 years, Lina worked tirelessly to celebrate the stories of people who were forgotten by the mainstream theatre community. Puente produced dozens of plays, collaborations, and works in translation, toured nationally and internationally, designed educational programs, produced festivals, participated in theatre conferences, workshops and festivals around the world, published numerous articles, and was the subject of several broadcast documentary programs. Over the years, Puente has worked extensively with immigrant service organizations in Victoria and Vancouver.
Lina trained under Augusto Boal, the famed Brazilian inventor of Forum Theatre, Image, and Playback Theatre, applied theatre approaches designed to help a community work through difficult issues by breaking down the barriers between actors and audience. Puente maintains a trained team of facilitators, and has worked with a variety of institutions and organizations throughout the years, including the University of Victoria, Camosun College, the Department of Defense, and the RCMP.
In 1999, Puente and the Belfry came together to present the first edition of WorldPlay, our ongoing series of staged readings of plays from around the world, curated and produced by Puente and hosted by the Belfry – now part of the Spark Festival every year.
In 2011, Lina retired, and after a national search, our artistic director, Mexican-born writer, director, and multi-disciplinary artist, Mercedes Bátiz-Benét, came on board.
Since Mercedes took over the reigns, Puente has continued to expand its impact on the local, provincial, and national theatre communities. Mercedes wrote and directed "El Jinete", the world’s first mariachi opera, in collaboration with Vancouver’s Mariachi Los Dorados, and won the Canadian Stage Award for Direction at the SummerWorks Festival in 2014. She also created two new shows for young audiences – "Gruff" and "The Umbrella" – which are reaching a substantial new public through touring both nationally and internationally. Mercedes also wrote "Cruel Tears/Lágrimas Crueles", a bilingual adaptation of the Canadian classic "Cruel Tears" situated on the Texas/Mexico border, which Puente co-produced with Blue Bridge Repertory Theatre. She organized a national four day symposium on diversity and inclusion in Canadian theatre, co-hosted the 2013 PACT conference with the Belfry, and produced an outdoor spectacle program for Victoria's 150th Anniversary Celebrations – creating giant puppets for civic events that have become a beloved Victoria tradition. Under her tenure, Puente has also initiated a presentation series, Puente Presents, showcasing culturally diverse work from across the country and abroad, collaborated with Theatre SKAM and SNAFU Dance Theatre on the multiple award-winning site-specific show "Lieutenant Nun" by Portuguese-Canadian playwright Elaine Avila, and most recently premiered Avila's new play "Fado, The Saddest Music in the World" to packed houses in Victoria followed by a highly successful co-production of the show with the Firehall Arts Centre in Vancouver.
Puente is dedicated to nurturing the next generation of IBPoC and newcomer artists. Through its WorkPlay Residency, the company provides dedicated dramaturgical support and vital audience feedback for emerging playwrights writing about identity. Puente’s Bridging the Gap Initiative, supported by the Victoria Foundation through their Gender Equity Fund, provides residency support, a $6,000 commissioning fee to each playwright, mentorship and dedicated dramaturgical assistance specifically for women and gender-diverse newcomer and IBPoC playwrights, a one week development workshop of the play with a professional director, stage manager and professional actors, as well as a public presentation of the work at the end of the workshop. In collaboration with Intrepid Theatre, Puente also offers conVERGE, an annual mentorship program and micro-residency for emerging IBPoC artists. In addition, Puente is commissioning five artists for the National Transformation Project, a series of digital pieces hosted by the National Arts Centre.
Puente’s impact on the national and international theatre community is growing – the company has three touring shows, which have performed in festivals such as SummerWorks in Toronto, the International Festival of Animated Objects in Calgary, the Casteliers Festival in Montreal, and the Nuits de Fourvière Festival in Lyon, France. In the coming years, look for a coproduction with Vancouver’s Urban Ink of Marie Cléments seminal work of Indigenous Theatre in Canada, “Burning Vision,” directed by Corey Payette, plus a remount of “Fado” at the Firehall, and “Gruff” at Carousel Theatre. The company is currently hard at work on “43,” an international collaboration with Mexican artists from across North America about the history of violence in the New World, which will be released as a film as well as a live theatre piece.