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TEATRX Serves Sexo Y Tortillas: The Musical at 4th Annual Shorts Festival

Jorge Diaz and Anthony Herrera during the 2021 La Vida Es Cortos/Life is Shorts Festival.
Jorge Diaz and Anthony Herrera during the 2021 La Vida Es Cortos/Life is Shorts Festival. Photo by Melissa Taylor
Back when Latinx theater company TEATRX was just a gleam in the eyes of eventual founders Marissa Castillo, Benito Vasquez and Jorge Diaz, Vasquez remembers meeting with Diaz to have the “hopes and dreams” conversations.

During these late-night talks, the pair came back to the same question again and again: How do we grow the Latino theater audience in Houston? Their answer, surprisingly, came from another medium completely.

“Latinos make up one of the largest populations to go see movies,” says Vasquez. “So we thought about a film festival…But we were also starting TEATRX at this same time. We knew of a bunch of smaller Latino theater groups, many were Spanish-speaking theater groups, and we were like, ‘How do we get everybody together to support each other and grow each other’s audiences?’ and so these two ideas sort of came together.”

When the trio officially founded TEATRX in August 2018, their first order of business was to announce the inaugural La Vida Es Cortos/Life is Shorts, a festival of short plays and films that showcase the Latinx experience. The festival, now in its fourth year, will return to The MATCH from December 2 through 4.

“The shorts format, which is not seen very often, really opens it up to include as many people as possible and to include as many voices as possible,” says Vasquez. “What we’re about is really showing the diversity of Latinidad, and with this festival, with having short films and inviting the community theaters and groups to come and share their stories and their way of theater, we put it all together.”

Headlining this year’s festival is the world premiere of TEATRX’s original, and eye-catchingly titled, one-act Sexo Y Tortillas: The Musical.

The short musical – written for the stage by the three TEATRX founders (Castillo, Diaz, and Vasquez) and members Anthony Almendárez and Ash Parra – is adapted from Priscilla Alvarez’s short film Sexo Y Tortillas, about a young Mexican-American business woman who peddles her wares – “feminine products for pleasure” – while in Mexico visiting her aunt. The short film took home the LVEC Audience Favorite Award during the 2019 festival, a win both Castillo and Vasquez admit was a surprise.

“We didn’t know how the audience was going to take that film,” remembers Vasquez.

“I think we were among the people who thought that the idea of sex toys would be something that people wouldn’t want to watch, but we thought it was an important story to share,” says Castillo. “It’s funny because some of it is our own bias in thinking, as most people think, ‘Oh, the Latino community is so conservative, they don’t talk about that stuff.’ But [the audience] loved it, so much so that they voted to watch it again. They voted it to be the favorite.”

TEATRX workshopped the show at Stages back in October, and again the audience responded well – in fact, they left dancing to Almendárez’s original music. Sexo Y Tortillas features a cumbia-style score as opposed to traditional Broadway-style music.

For Castillo, who is directing the short musical and can see how the title can be “jarring” for some people, it affirms just how much the story resonates with audiences.

“I think the message to them was clear about how natural and how important it is for us to destigmatize the sex toy taboo and just women’s sexuality in general,” says Castillo. “The title sounds edgy and crazy, but for me it’s a family story…It’s about being a community and making a community anywhere you go.”
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Benito Vasquez during the 2021 La Vida Es Cortos/Life is Shorts Festival.
Photo by Melissa Taylor
Each performance will feature the musical and three plays (from Franky D. Gonzalez, Sylvia Chavez, and one Spanish language play from TEATRX’s partner theater organization Teatro Maktub), alongside different slates of short films during the Friday and Saturday presentations. After each, the audience is invited to vote for their favorites, and about six of those audience-favorite films will be selected to screen during the final Sunday performance.

But if you’re thinking about just going Sunday just to catch the shows and the audience-favorite selections, Castillo has a warning. “You won’t get to see all of [the films], and sometimes it is very close. We’ve had some films that are so good not make audience favorite just because the other films in the lineup are also really good that night.”

Examples of the great work you can find in this year’s film lineup include the magical realism of Stacy Pascal Gaspard’s Soñadora, about a struggling immigrant mother from the Caribbean who dreams of being a dancer; Maria Victoria Ponce’s Death and Deathability (A Period Piece), a little family film about a girl who mistakes her first period for impending death and decides to make a bucket list; and Maceo Montoya’s funny Pete Hates the Dodgers, about a man (Pete) who lives in L.A. and just can’t get away from Dodgers fans – especially not when two of them are his own father and a girl that he likes.

“I think Houston Astros fans will enjoy the idea of hating the Dodgers,” jokes Vasquez.

Though Vasquez says much of the festival’s diversity comes on the film side, it’s not always easy to find.

“We want to have as many voices as possible in this festival,” says Vasquez. “We don’t always get [that], and this comes from some minority groups within the Latinx community being ignored for so long that even when you put out a call for Latinx films...they don’t think those calls are for them.”

Some filmmakers, such as those in the Afro-Latino and LGBTQ communities, or those that are Latino but don’t have Spanish in their films, think that the festival is not for them. But if TEATRX doesn’t get what they feel is representative of the Latinx community when they call for plays and films, Vasquez says that they go out and search for those voices themselves.

Castillo adds that the diversity in the lineup is not just in the different stories being told, but in the short format itself and the different ways within that short format allows the stories to be told.

“We’re able to show several different stories about the Latinx community – stories about the Afro-Latino community, stories about the Mexican-American experience, the Cuban experience, the LGBTQ experience, and all with a Latinx lens – each night with a new lineup of film for the first three nights and then with four different plays,” says Castillo. “You have love stories, you have stories of family, stories of people trying to keep their dreams alive…They’re told from the Latinx lens, but they are universal stories that will resonate with anyone who comes to watch.”

La Vida Es Cortos/Life Is Shorts is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Friday, December 2; 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, December 3; and 2:30 p.m. Sunday, December 4 at The MATCH, 3400 Main. For more information, visit teatrx.org. Tickets are pay-what-you-can starting at $10.
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Natalie de la Garza is a contributing writer who adores all things pop culture and longs to know everything there is to know about the Houston arts and culture scene.