About a mile west of Lone Fir Cemetery, a 165-year old cemetery in Portland in the Buckman neighborhood, you will find a salmon-colored building on the corner of 6th and Stark Street. Nestled just east of the river, its olden marquee frames the venue’s name which stands erect over a traditional vertical light-up sign. Milagro, the Spanish word for miracle, is the city’s nexus for Hispanic cultural festivals, events, and plays.
In the past thirty plus years, Milagro (a.k.a. Miracle Theatre Group, or MTG) has cemented its reputation as one of the leading teatros in our nation, and one of the beacons for Latinx Theatre. Founded in 1986, Milagro originally started as a company dedicated to both Greek Theatre and Hispanic works. It was in 1992 that Milagro shifted its focus and dedicated its artistic endeavors solely to the production and development of Hispanic works of theatre, arts, and culture. Five years later, Milagro’s Executive Director, José González and Artistic Director Dañel Malán of Teatro Milagro—its bilingual touring and education branch—purchased the building they had called home for nearly ten years. The multi-tiered venue includes dance and rehearsal studios, a gallery space, an impressive scene shop, the café where people gather pre and post show in a cozy atmosphere, and the zócalo which is a hub for events and community-building ventures. Its main feature and the reason behind its celebrated foot-traffic is the charming and intimate 121-seat theater which serves its audiences equal part vintage charm and quality theatre.
Dedicated to producing “authentic, vibrant, and provocative” theatre, Milagro truly owns up to its mission. It was the summer of 2015 that José González and I met at the Carnaval of New Latinx Plays hosted by the Latinx Theatre Commons at De Paul University in Chicago. As a featured playwright in the festival, this was my first point of exposure to the larger Latinx community and moreover, it created the launchpad to my relationship with Milagro. In 2016 I developed El Muerto Vagabundo (Death and The Tramp) for Milagro’s annual signature Day of the Dead production. This annual event is one of Milagro’s highest-ranking productions and is, in my opinion, the best theatrical event of the Pacific Northwest.
Every year Milagro commissions a playwright and director to devise and create a new work to celebrate, honor, and embrace the beloved Mexican holiday. Milagro’s annual Day of the Dead production is, in short, the equivalent of most regional theatre’s Christmas Carol. Portland audiences await with hearty anticipation for this season-launcher every year. That Milagro commissions a playwright for this favored slot, which encourages the new, original, and different while maintaining the traditional aesthetic that translates to multi-generational, multi-lingual, and multi-racial audiences, is one of the reasons I have loved being a playwright there. Because of Milagros extensive history in the Latinx community as well as their recognition nationwide, they usually select the playwright for the Day of the Dead Show based on recommendation, first-hand knowledge, or exposure to a playwright’s work.
Although Milagro has been the cradle for some of our canon’s most inventive works and playwrights (many playwrights receive their rolling, national, or world-premieres at Milagro including Quiara Alegría Hudes, Marisela Treviño-Orta, Octavio Solis, Matthew-Paul Olmos, Milta Ortiz, and many more), it used to be difficult to ‘get in the door’ as a writer. Indeed, the way to get “in” with Milagro was, basically, they had to know you or know about you. This trend has changed in the last five years. Milagro’s recent seasons have included a variety of new works, sometimes up to three a season, one commission and two new plays. A company that keeps a pulse on the state of the arts, Milagro recently launched the open-submission based Ingenio Milagro New Works Project—a nurturing laboratory for the development of new work culminating in a public reading. Ingenio, the fitting Spanish word for ingenuity and the inventive, takes place in the fall each year prior to the Day of the Dead production and gives playwrights week-long access to actors and a director to workshop their new play.
Since 2016, I have been invited back a series of times for other projects to include writing and directing two bilingual touring shows for Milagro’s sister entity: Teatro Milagro. Most recently, I penned an original Day of the Dead play which quickly became a patron favorite and was presented in Puerto Vallarta, México last fall, giving birth to another potential extension of Milagro: Mundo Milagro. One need only to look at this historic theatre’s past season roster to discover the impact it has had on shaping, nurturing, and advancing Latinx theatre. Milagro has indeed been a form of minor miracle for many of us and it has the creative capacity to continue to take risks and implement new and exciting avenues for writers.
As an artistic ally to this company, I have seen the opportunities for writers triple within the last three years and have no doubt that this trend will continue to grow. And while it’s true that “The graveyard is the richest place on earth, because it is here that you will find all the hopes and dreams that were never fulfilled,” as Les Brown says, it has been the miracle on 6th and Stark that has fulfilled hopes and dreams of many Latinx writers, directors, actors, and makers.
GEORGINA ESCOBAR is a NYC-based playwright from Ciudad Juárez, México. A MacDowell Fellow, Djerassi Artists, and recipient of the Kennedy Center Theatre for Young Audiences National Award 2011, her work has made the Kilroy’s List and Finalist at the O’Neill and been seen or workshopped at INTAR, Clubbed Thumb, Lincoln Center, Milagro, Aurora Theatre, Bushwick Starr, and Two Rivers, among others.