By Cory Phare
As a new member of the El Madina Performing and Digital Arts troupe in Alexandria, Egypt, Marialuisa Burgos was nervous about the language barrier. After all, she found out on the first day of rehearsals that the director didn’t speak English.
But acting, by nature, requires adaptive interpretation. And what initially seemed to be a limitation ended up becoming another skill to add to her repertoire.
“We really came to rely on the importance of body language,” Burgos said. “When you work with others you don’t initially understand, you find new ways to communicate.”
Burgos may not have been born on a stage, but it’s where she has made her home for almost her entire life.
The 2016 music graduate from Pueblo fell in love with performance from an early age. She recalled how her father, a guitarist, encouraged a then-5-year-old Burgos to sing for her family.
That led to playing mariachi in sixth grade, which paved the way to Burgos’ co-founding the Los Correcaminos student club after transferring to MSU Denver and continuing with her current group, Mariachi Sangre Mexicana.
And thanks to the work she’s continued from her internships at Su Teatro now as an artistic program associate, she’s been able to take the message of cultural storytelling to an international level.
Anthony Garcia, executive artistic director of Su Teatro and affiliate faculty of Chicana/o studies at MSU Denver, says having students such as Burgos helps fuel the arts-and-cultural organization.
“Teaching has a lot to do with building those relationships and interacting with students, giving them the ability to share their stories,” he said. “For a small-town girl to push the boundaries like she has – that’s exciting.”
Burgos sought out the cultural-and-performing-arts organization three years ago as a means to connect opportunity with her relentlessly focused drive.
“I had the chance to participate in a Latino performance festival in Los Angeles and asked, ‘How can I stay in school?’” she said. “The Theatre Department then helped me set up the internship with Su Teatro.”
Garcia says the organization (now in its 45th year) grew out of the Chicano movement of the 1960s, inspired by the work of Luis Valdez and El Teatro Campesino, who used theatre to support the work of Cesar Chavez and the United Farmworkers Union. This continued a tradition of calling for social justice through the arts, exemplified by poets and activists such as Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales and late MSU Denver faculty member and Denver Poet Laureate Abelardo “Lalo” Delgado.
“There’s a reintroduction to history through the arts happening on a daily basis here,” Garcia said. “It’s standing on decades of tradition; it’s important to learn the why and how to become a part of it.”
As Burgos noted, there’s a reason it’s called “Su Teatro” – Spanish for “your theatre.”
“It’s a place for the community,” she said. “As a theatre of color, it’s a safe space to act, to tell the stories of the Latina and Chicano culture.”
That multimodal expression came in handy for Burgos as she set off for Egypt.
Cast in “The Gentleman Caller” – an adaptation of “The Glass Menagerie” – she knew the experience would be difficult, but her trust in the connective power of community proved well-founded.
As an example, she pointed out how the director had each actor perform the play in its entirety, individually. Burgos said the exercise in empathy illuminated the similarities between Egyptian culture and her own.
She also noted how troupe members who were musicians would get together offstage, becoming fast friends by trading songs and jamming together.
Building these bonds has helped her succeed as a student and an ascendant creative professional. And with more international acts in the works, the stage is set for a global performance to transcend every challenge that comes her way.
“Any form of art connects people on an emotional level,” Burgos said. “It’s important because we’re able to share our stories in this universal way that we all understand. It’s beautiful.”
Come see the new Roadrunner-painted mural at Su Teatro's 21st Annual Chicano Music Festival & Auction, July 27-30.
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