Behind the curtains, backstage all of the magic happens for the UTEP (University of Texas at El Paso) Department of Theatre and Dance. The department has grown tremendously over the years as the department has put on memorable shows and it is because of the dedication of the faculty like Clinical Professor and Director of Audience Development, Adriana Dominguez, and Assistant Professor, Rebecca Rivas.
What separates the UTEP department from other venues for theatre in El Paso is the connection with education. They cannot do whichever shows they want to; it takes careful deliberation and preparation to put shows that will draw community attention and forward the education of the UTEP students.
“We’re lucky, we’re never bored,” said Dominguez about the day-to-day operations. Promotions, running box office, making community connections, and of course the actual production of the shows fall into the hands of everybody in the department.
Dominguez and Rivas also add a hometown perspective to the department, being both alumni that attended UTEP together. The love that they have for their community is conveyed in their work at UTEP. They want El Paso to have the admiration for theatre that they do.
“I’ve always loved El Paso, I love El Paso! I think we have such potential, such talent, and I knew that when I was moving to New York I was going to come back,“ said Dominguez. “I was really lucky a month before I graduated the position opened and I came down for an interview and I had a job when I left New York.”
Rivas went to University of Arkansas for her MFA after graduating from UTEP, and found out about the job opening for professor at UTEP. “Time stopped,” she said, describing the moment. She, like Adriana, knows the community, how special and deserving the community is, and they work hard for that.
It is the hometown knowledge that helps Dominguez and Rivas understand their students, and enables them to push the department forward not only at the right pace, but also maintain a focus on their students’ education.
“I know what the students are talking about,” Dominguez said talking about the growth and opportunities the program and the university have seen since their days as students. Commenting on the shuttles that take them up Sun Bowl, “I remember the days after rehearsal you had to hoof it up there.”
The performances are considerably more admirable when the performers are balancing jobs, are taking fifteen hours (taking five classes) at the university, and have other responsibilities.
The shows themselves are submitted by faculty, and at times even students, and done so far in advance; at least a year to be specific. Which shows are selected comes down to logistics. Sometimes they need to perform the “moneymaker with title recognition,” said Dominguez. “Art takes money.” There are also logistical limitations, like space and time. If a show requires a larger venue than what they have, it cannot be done.
A large part of Dominguez’s position is making the connections with members of the community to not only spread awareness of the shows but also for help with funding.
Amid the current times where the NEA and NEH (National Endowment of the Arts and National Endowment of the Humanities) and the arts as a whole are facing huge cutbacks, perhaps even total erasure, it is important to find some sources of revenue.
It is difficult for smaller productions and smaller theatres to garner large coverage. Dominguez explained, “You have to highlight the arts, can’t buy coverage. Our arts have to do that for us.”
A balance has to be found between the performances with title recognition and the lesser-known titles. Dominguez and Rivas’ familiarity with the community has also helped in these regards. It has assisted in selecting ““stories that are relevant to the community” and “fostering inclusivity,” said Rivas.
Another method that the Department of Theatre and Dance is working with to build support for theatre and the arts in the community is through a traveling show that goes out to elementary schools, no cost to the schools. “You have to be young and appreciate the arts to support it later and our schools do not do that,” said Dominguez.
Rivas acknowledged the difficulties the arts may face in the upcoming times. “Artists are savvy, people they are creative. It would be nice to have dollar signs behind it but you know we are just going to persist.”
– By Antonio Villaseñor-Baca