Community theater inspires students through Latin culture


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The students of La Joven Guardia del Teatro Latino continue to hone their skills in preparation for when they can perform in front of the public again.

Founder and Artistic Director José Miguel Hernández Hurtado, a Cuban immigrant, founded the Syracuse Theater in 1999 with the mission of enriching and educating disadvantaged youth in a theatrical environment that fosters growth and excellence.

A shy child, Hurtado entered the theater at an early age in Havana, Cuba, working under the direction of Raquel Reveulta, who he says helped shape his career. He continued his training at the Teatro Estudio Centro Latinoamericano de Creación e Investigación Teatral.

“(Some kids in Syracuse) don’t have (a) a support system,” Hurtado said. “So I tried to form a group… to help them believe in the dream, believe in themselves and increase their self-esteem. “


The community theater presents a play each year for Latin / Hispanic Heritage Month, but had to cancel due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Sarah Lee | Ass. Photo editor

Typically, the theater stages its annual play during Latin / Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs from September 15 to October 15. During the rest of the year, students participate in readings, dance lessons, and other offerings. But because of the pandemic, their annual production has been canceled. Despite the cancellation, the students continue to meet in person, with safety precautions, to hone their artistic skills, Hurtado said.

The theater has also canceled its annual gala. At last year’s annual fundraising event, Luis A. Figueroa Rosada, former student and current theater vice-president, reunited with his friends from the theater. Rosada’s memories of her time in the theater include performances at the New York State Fair, retirement homes, and corporate openings.

“Day in and day out, we (practiced)… and from that practice to the performance on stage, it was just magical,” said Rosada.

At the gala, Rosada reunited with Florida resident and former student Yanetsy Meriño Bacallao, who is now president of La Joven Guardia. Bacallao did not have a good understanding of the culture of the United States when she immigrated to the country from Cuba in 2003. As a theater student, she learned the basics of acting and how to act. engage with the community.

Whenever Bacallao took the stage, whether she was playing a wife, mother, or princess, she was constantly learning. Now, as she works to help low-income families, she owes all of her success to the lessons she learned in the theater, she said.


Outside of the theater, Hurtado is a student mentor, even translating school reunions between students, teachers, and families who don’t speak English as their mother tongue. Sarah Lee | Ass. Photo editor

“Theater is not just acting. Theater is more than that. Especially at La Joven Guardia del Teatro Latino, it’s more than that. It’s a family, ”Bacallao said.

Longtime theater supporter Shirley Novak met Hurtado when she was a student at the Westside Learning Center. Their friendship has grown and Novak continues to be impressed with Hurtado’s work in the community.

“(Hurtado is) probably the most positive person I’ve ever known… He somehow manages to find something positive in any challenge,” Novak said.

Theater is not just acting, theater is more than that. Especially at La Joven Guardia, it’s more than that. It’s a family.

former student Yanetsy Meriño Bacallao

Novak said her favorite memory as an audience member of La Joven Guardia del Teatro Latino’s work was when she was attending the Michael Harms Theater Festival in 2009. Before La Joven Guardia del Teatro took the stage, she remembered sitting near some of the judges. panelists and heard them express that they were not Spanish speakers. Despite the language barrier, she remembers their work winning several accolades, Novak said.

The Joven Guardia del Teatro Latino also serves central New York beyond the theater. The programming is not exclusive to Spanish speakers, so to prepare for productions in Spanish, the theater teaches the language to non-Spanish speakers in short sessions, Rosada said.

Hurtado also serves as a mentor for his students. He has translated school meetings between teachers, students and families who do not speak English well, Novak said.


Students of La Joven Guardia del Teatro Latino continue to meet in person while following CDC guidelines. Sarah Lee | Ass. Photo editor

“José Miguel uses the theater in such a way that he not only gets good performances from the children on stage,” said Novak. “But they understand from the start that they have to keep their notes, they have to be responsible to themselves, to their families and to the other children who play with them.”

Bacallao has noticed that each student who comes to the theater sees their life in a completely different way. Her main goal for theater is to teach students about this art form, while inspiring them to excel in all aspects of their lives.

“It’s just amazing how (Hurtado is) able to be so flexible and be able to teach these kids, unite all these communities together and work as one,” Rosada said. .

In the years to come, Hurtado hopes to continue to share his love for theater, provide student mentorship, and a safe space for the arts. He hopes to pass on the joy of theater to the next generation, with the goal of making theater accessible to the whole world.

The former students of La Joven Guardia del Teatro Latino continued their love of the show and continued to work as doctors, teachers, specialist educators, scientists and chemists. And while their student time is over, Bacallao and Rosada are both grateful for Hurtado’s theater and mentorship.

“(La Joven Guardia del Teatro Latino) has literally changed my whole life,” Bacallao said.

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