Culture Hub

Something's bubbling up from the performance arts underground -- ¡Teatro Caliente!, an intercultural theater festival that makes its debut this weekend.

It's an idea that's been brewing for a long time with Chris Danowski, artistic director of the event and alternative theater group Theater in My Basement.

"Actually, it started in '99, when we were in Minneapolis," he says. The group relocated to the Valley a little over two years ago. "We were thinking about bringing together groups that had different sensibilities. Here, all of a sudden, I started meeting all sorts of people who were doing things under the radar."

One willing collaborator was James Garcia, who was a student in an ASU playwriting class taught by Danowski. Garcia founded Colores Actors-Writers Workshop, a group devoted to works by emerging Latino theater talent.

"Our work is really different, but there are some similar concerns," says Danowski. "I'm really interested in making connections between the Latino and the alternative communities."

Danowski wasn't planning on launching Teatro Caliente! until 2004. But Garcia, excited about the event's concept, became the producer and "instigator" for what he calls the "pilot version of the festival."

"We did this with a small budget, but it's going to be quality stuff," Garcia says.

The lineup has plenty of variety, too.

Starting off each evening are Stage Slams, competitions of improvisational or honed performance pieces. Performers sign up for three- to five-minute slots, and are judged by a panel of experts.

After the Stage Slam on Friday night, the Intertribal Theatre Project opens the festival. Made up of mostly Navajo members, the Northern Arizona group is "really funny, very visual and kid-friendly -- but adults get it," says Danowski.

Then two pieces by Garcia's group are followed by a video screening of a work by Opendance. Solo performer Angela Giron recites poetry and prose, local group Teatro Icono presents hilarious Spanish-language street theater, and ASU professor Amira de la Garza performs Maria Speaks. Solo performer Laurelann Porter concludes the night with Idle Worship.

On Saturday, John Leanos follows the Stage Slam with his "cyber prayer." Cuban artist Leandro Soto does a fortune-telling performance piece, and video artist Patricia Clark screens some of her work. Emilio Caruso and Eric Udell of Anya perform Cuban and Brazilian percussion, followed by another screening of an Opendance show. Marcos Najera and Lisa Takata share a collaborative work, and then Lance Gharavi and Jeff McMahon present Patriot Act. Rounding out the night is Theater in My Basement's Mexotica.

However diverse their creations, all of the artists in Teatro Caliente! are working outside the mainstream.

"They all come from different points of view," says Danowski. "When I talk to them, I think, These are the people who make up Phoenix -- they make up the cultural fabric of the place.'"