The Puerto Rican Traveling Theater Gave a Bilingual Voice to the Boricua Diaspora in the U.S.

Susanne Ramírez de Arellano
 | June 13, 2022

Credit: Nuestro Stories

The Puerto Rican Traveling Theater (PRTT) was the first performing theater to give a bilingual voice to the Boricua Diaspora in the United States. It emphasized the dramatic history of Puerto Rico and Latin America and how Latino emigres changed U.S. theater. Thanks to it, it made theater accessible to the people and a traveling narrative of the diaspora.

It was founded in 1967 by Puerto Rican actress Miriam Colon. She found success both on the Broadway stage and in film, after she and Boricua actors Lucy Boscana and the great, late Raul Julia performed the English version of the play “La Carreta” in New York City in 1966. 

The Beginnings Behind The Puerto Rican Traveling Theater

“La Carreta” (or Oxcart in English) was a play written by Puerto Rican short story writer and playwright Rene Marquez in 1953. It told the story of a jibaro family forced off their farm and to emigrate first to the capital, San Juan, and then to New York.   

The play was a hit, but its audience was limited to those who could pay the price of a ticket. It was a story about Puerto Ricans, but Puerto Ricans could not afford to see it.  

Read more: Casa Amadeo Embodies the History of Latin Music in New York

Realizing this, Colón decided to present it free of charge. As a student in Puerto Rico, Colón had been part of a traveling theater, bringing art to the interior of the island. She took that experience and started a summer program, sponsored by then-Mayor John Lindsay, that toured “La Carreta” to several neighborhoods in free bilingual performances. 

This summer program eventually grew into the Puerto Rican Traveling ­Theater, which was founded in 1967 and became the first Spanish bilingual theater in the United States. It went on to change American theater forever, giving a voice to the Puerto Rican Diaspora, allowing them to tell their stories, and be recognized. 

Raul Julia’s Role at the PRTT

It’s important to note that none other than Julia started at the PRTT. Today, he is best known as Gomez Addams of “The Addams Family” franchise, but it was his Petruchio, played alongside Meryl Streep in the “Taming of the Shrew” that cemented his brilliance.

As Panamanian musician Ruben Blades stated in a documentary about the actor: “fiercely, fiercely Puerto Rican.” 

What’s Going On Now? 

Today, the PRTT has merged with Pregones – another Boricua traveling theater model. They brought together their two distinctive styles and joined forces in 2013.

Pregones has a tightly-knit ensemble and created or adapted the works they have staged – “El bolero fue mi ruina”, “Dancing in My Cockroach Killers,” “Baile Cangrejero”, and “El apagón/The Blackout.” 

PRTT is known for its staging of classics and new plays, in both English and Spanish –  from Puerto Rico, Spain, Chile, Mexico, Venezuela, and other Latin American countries – as well as plays by U.S.-based artists. Some examples are Ariel Dorf­man’s “Death and the Maiden,” Isaac Chocrón’s “O.K.,” and Pedro Pietri’s “The Masses Are Asses.”

Both Pregones and PRTT have amplified the Puerto Rican voice – in both its guises – Puerto Rico and the Bronx. Long may they reign and engender many more talents like Raul Julia.×250.jpeg

By Susanne Ramírez de Arellano

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Featured image is from the image Hoja Suelta, by José Guadalupe Posada, 1901.
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