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ASU professor wants to create a pipeline for Latino students in the performing arts

There have been many efforts to get girls and minority students in STEM — science, technology, engineering and math. But Micha Espinosa didn’t hear a lot about getting them into the arts. So, she’s working to change it. 

Espinosa is a professor in Arizona State University's School of Music Dance and Theater, as well as the author of several books for Latino and Latinx actors, including a book of monologues, scenes and training. 

Now, she’s hoping to create a pipeline from local high schools into the performing arts for Latino students with the new Latinx Leadership Academy in the Performing Arts. She wants to counter the message that you can’t have a career in her field. 

Interview highlights

How do you fill the resource gap?

MICHA ESPINOSA: And then through my research, I also noted in all of my books, I've been finding out that there weren't a lot of resources. I'll give you an example. So if you were a Latino student, an actor, let's say, and you are interested in finding a monologue for you. Well, here's a book of a 1,000 monologues. You open it up and there's not one monologue where you can see yourself represented, in a book of a 1,000 monologues.

So that's why I wrote "Monologues for Latino Actors," co-edited "Scenes for Latinx Actors." And now I have a book on Latinx actor training.

How will your academy work?

ESPINOSA: Local high schools here, I'm gonna start it here in Arizona. And I'm hoping that this becomes a model that can be used across the country. And the idea would be to recruit students in their junior year. And then during this leadership academy, there's four modules. One would be about understanding the careers in the performing arts, getting an orientation to the academy to university life, strategic goal setting. And then learning how to communicate your story. And one of those best practices for the industry for getting into school. And then looking to the future, how to find those scholarships, how to apply to school and how to take back what they've learned in the Latinx Leadership Academy back to their high schools so that they can offer it to their communities.

How do you tailor this kind of training to Latinx students?

ESPINOSA: Well, there's a huge canon of Latinx writers and there's a large community of Latinx, Latin theater artists across the country and theaters where they could work. And so to understand the field and then have pedagogy or training that is culturally responsive. Where English and Spanish is invited so they can explore their linguistic identity. They can also explore the stories from their culture and then find their own stories, bring their own stories which are generally bicultural, bicultural stories.

Will this extend to the lack of representation in Hollywood?

ESPINOSA: Well, exactly this is what this program will do. Hopefully it will start solving that problem. It's an empowerment program. The idea is to motivate and empower students in their identity. And in high school, it's a really unique time to explore one's identity and especially their cultural identity.

So for Latin students to celebrate their cultural identity, there's not a lot of places where they get to do that, where they get to connect with their heritage, their language, their traditions and, and take that sense of pride and belonging into their craft, into their skill building and that they need to understand all the fields. And the goal is Latin directors, writers, designers, yes, actors, dancers, musicians, all of it, we need all the roles filled.

How would this kind of training have changed your life?

ESPINOSA: The last book I wrote, my chapter on the complexity and poetry of Latinx identity, I actually wrote a letter to my younger self, and I'll just share a little bit of it with you.

If I could speak to my younger self entering actor training, I would tell her this. Having a satisfying, enriching life as a performer can take many shapes. There is not one way. You can choose challenge and transform your identity. You have a myriad of choices. Embrace your hybrid identities, create new identities, mine the social, political, creative and linguistic power in your body with pride and confidence. Keep the best values from your bi-culturalism and multiculturalism and disregard what no longer works for you.

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Lauren Gilger, host of KJZZ's The Show, is an award-winning journalist whose work has impacted communities large and small, exposing injustices and giving a voice to the voiceless and marginalized.