El Centro Milagro
Do you recognize this building? Of course you do! We are delighted to announce that the 2015 Special Achievement Award goes to Milagro, for providing over 30 years of stunningly vibrant Latino theatre both here in the Northwest (especially Portland) and throughout the country via its national tours, and for providing a home for Spanish and Latino arts and culture at El Centro Milagro. Milagro has not only entertained, enlightened, educated, and enriched its audiences for the past three decades, it has also served the community well, with a variety of outreach projects and educational programs designed to share the diversity of Latino culture.
Milagro is unique, wonderful, and exciting…a true miracle! But three decades of existence…in an environment where theatre companies sprout up, blossom, but then die almost as quickly…are also the product of hard work. We are grateful to Vicente Guzman-Orozco for allowing us to use the following essay which he wrote last year for the company’s Thirtieth Anniversary, to tell something of Milagro’s history; we think you will agree that this award is richly deserved.
A Homegrown Miracle in the Heart of Central Eastside
by Vicente Guzman-Orozco
When a young transplanted couple decided to nurture their dream into reality back in 1984, Portland was a bit different than today.
The Timbers soccer team, then known as FC Portland, was just warming up to the United Soccer Leagues, the Trail Blazers passed on signing Michael Jordan, and Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. would be known as Union Avenue for another decade and a half. José González and Dañel Malán set out to create Miracle Theatre, a company whose authenticity and originality would set it apart from the rest.
José González and Dañel Malán
Thirty years have made their mark on the city. Today, the Timbers and Blazers fire up fans all over the country, and in addition to Rev. King, the City of Roses honors other civil rights heroes by naming important thoroughfares after Rosa Parks and Cesar Chavez. Miracle has been renamed also, to reflect everyone’s favorite name for the company: Milagro. The hopes and efforts of José González and Dañel Malán have transformed their dream into an organization that reaches well beyond its home in the Central Southeast district.
El Centro Milagro on Stark St. (a few feet east of MLK Jr. Blvd.) is at once a distinctive and unassuming building. Outside, warm desert tones set it apart from the grey workaday structures surrounding it. Inside, Caribbean pastels and tropical brights welcome you to a truly multifaceted cultural center. This is the tangible heart of González and Malán’s dream: Milagro, a vibrant theatre company that recently celebrated its 30th Anniversary Season, firmly established as the premier Latino arts and culture organization in the Pacific Northwest.
Milagro’s colorful and welcoming lobby, panorama
The journey to the Milagro of today, like all great adventures, was everything but straightforward. González and Malán started out by producing various experimental and avant-garde works under the name ArtPaz, (joining “art” to the Spanish word for “peace”). The inaugural production was Alan Ayckburn’s Relatively Speaking, foreshadowing the combination of irreverence and wit that characterizes many of the productions today. A couple of years later, they founded the Ancient Greek Theatre Festival with shows featuring the set and costume design skills that José and Dañel respectively continue to apply to Milagro’s productions. The company and its festival had found a temporary home in the Northwest Service Center where, moved by Gonzalez’s nostalgia for the Southwest and its Latino vibrancy in particular, the company also organized the city’s first Hispanic Cultural Festival in 1989.
The inaugural festival defined the direction and flavor of the company with important Latino works like Milcha Sanchez Scott’s Roosters and Antonio Skármeta’s Burning Patience sharing the playbill with the Andean folk band Illapu. The couple began a history of fostering emerging local talents,including actors, dancers and poets. The festival became an annual event, alternating with the Greek Festival, which shared a similar purpose of highlighting the richness of cultural identity while exploring age-old themes and modern dilemmas.
Perhaps influenced by the birth of Sylvia, the couple’s first child, the festival also featured programming for young children with an original work, Perez y Martina, which would mark the beginning of Milagro’s touring and educational projects. The itinerant component was also a nod to the pioneering Chicano theatre troupe El Teatro Campesino founded by Luis Valdez.
The festival connected with a local audience and desire for the programming it offered, not only from the public in general but also from the growing numbers of Latinos in the Portland metropolitan area, having gone from less than 4% in 1990 to 6.8% according to the 2000 census. Now at an estimated 9.4%, the community has grown in a great deal in size and influence, and so has Milagro, transitioning to focus on promoting the works of Latino artists of local, national and global renown by 1992.
The company’s growth led to letting go of the Greek festival, and eventually to finding its own home away from the Northwest Service Center in what would become El Centro Milagro in 1995. To inaugurate their new home, González and Malán organized one of the most iconic Latino celebrations in the city, a Day of the Dead festival that year after year continues to draw participants from near and far. A recent edition featured a production written and directed by Lakin Valdez, who grew up as an integral part of El Teatro Campesino, serving as its Associate Artistic Director.
Audience members are not the only ones impressed by the results of González and Malán’s hard work. In addition to attracting artists to participate and collaborate with the company, critics have also taking notice, honoring the company with 27 Drammy awards since 1999. Milagro has also garnered the support of foundation and corporate funders such as Nike, Inc. and the Northwest Area Foundation. The connection to the local Hispanic community has also prompted collaborations with health, housing and education organizations to produce everything from summer camps to creating entire outreach campaigns to prevent smoking, breast and cervical cancer and sexually-transmitted infections. While the touring component continues to perform for young children to encourage interest in the arts and literacy, the reach of the educational efforts has grown, touring nationally and even participating in international events, such as Mexico’s prestigious Festival Cervantino in Guanajuato, Mexico.
Milagro established itself as a reflection and representation of the professional artistry in the Hispanic community, and it continues to serve as a beacon for people seeking to present and experience the immense variety of Latino art and culture. From developing local talent and hosting international Flamenco, classical, and folk musicians, to producing the work of emerging and eminent Latino playwrights, the company stands strong after three decades. True to its tag line of Authentic, Vibrant, Provocative, the company just presented the Portland premiere of American Night, by acclaimed Chicano playwright Richard Montoya, to popular and critical raves.
Milagro proudly continues its evolution into the future, utilizing social media, creating interactive projects, and making “green” improvements to its home El Centro Milagro. From dream to reality, what González and Malán created is as much a part of the history of Portland as its Latino population; and the Latin beat keeps pulsing even stronger in Central Eastside.
Thank you to Vicente for this excellent history.
And thank you again, from the Drammy Committee, to marvelous Milagro!
Gracias por treinta años de teatro verdaderamente inspirador y conmovedor!
The following three photos are from Oedipus el Rey, Lorca in a Green Dress (Drammy-winning productions), and a very striking pic from Raiz (a Day of the Dead show).
Lorca in a Green Dress, Photo: Alan Mevis