For 43 years, the neighborhood mainstay has celebrated the richness and diversity of the 22 countries that comprise Spanish and Latin American culture as the only Hispanic theatre in Queens. Each season, the Thalia presents four original dance musicals- in Mexican, Colombian, Flamenco and Tango styles- and two theatrical productions with bilingual casts that alternate shows in Spanish and English.
“In political times like these it is very important that we portray the Hispanic culture well, and without stereotypes,” says Angel Gil Orrios, the Thalia’s artistic director for 20 years. “Our mission is to be able to promote what is a common thread between each of those heritages, instead of what divides us.”
“And to be able to connect the Hispanic community to its roots,” he continues.
Since its inception, the Thalia has produced more than 230 plays, musicals, zarzuelas and folklore shows. The theatre has been the recipient of nearly as many awards (222 to be exact), including the Mayor’s Award for Arts and Culture, the NY State Governor’s Arts Award, Encore Awards from the Arts and Business Council, a Latin Grammy and multiple ACE Awards or “Latin Tonys.”
The Thalia’s trajectory as an entertainment venue has developed alongside the growth of Queens’ Hispanic presence. When the theatre was established by actress and director Silvia Brito in 1977, Orrios explains, the neighborhood was almost entirely Irish.
“Everybody thought she was crazy,” he says.
At that time, the Thalia was focused on preserving and showcasing the Spanish lyrical stage tradition of the zarzuela- a form of Spanish musical theatre which combines operatic singing with dialogue.
Over the years, zarzuela has maintained a place in the theatre’s annual repertoire, but as the surrounding community rapidly transitioned to one that represents every Spanish-speaking nation around the globe, so too did the Thalia widen its scope as a reflection of the now majority-Hispanic population.
That vision furthered in 2000, when the founder passed on direction of the Thalia to Orrios, whose career involves a lifetime of writing and designing with popular venues around the world, such as Madison Square Garden, Lincoln Center and the National Theater in Spain.
Orrios is known for fostering the concept of a “total theatre experience,” combining text, music, dance and visual arts to bring the stage to life.
“NY is the cradle of musicals,” muses Orrios. “And because of that it is important for me to conceive the theatricality of Flamenco and Tango as a structure for musicals.”
“In the same way there exists the American musical,” he continues, “I want to explore the Spanish or Hispanic musical, with our themes, our music and our dance.”
And the artistic director has made good on his promise, inventing unique productions in dance and theatre, from the staging of three plays written by Picasso as Flamenco musicals to a Flamenco rendition of the Greek tragedy “The Bacchae.”
This year’s Flamenco musical “Flamenco al Son Latino,” which was set to start last week but is postponed due to coronavirus concerns, is one that hones in on a fusion of the traditional artform from Spain with Latin American rhythms.
Orrios described the show as an ida y vuelta, or a “round trip,” demonstrating the journey of Flamenco from the song and dance that initiated in Spain to colonial lands in Latin America, and the style’s return to its home country as a rebirth influenced by Latino sounds.
The theatre’s productions usually feature the Thalia’s resident dance company Danza España or Tango group led by musician Maestro Raul Juarena. Local, as well as international, artists are also invited to perform.
“For us the importance of the theatre is to maintain this core of hispanic artists living here,” he explains.
At the end of every season in June, the Thalia organizes a free outdoor festival at the local Thomson Hill Park/Noonan Playground, which showcases four hour-long dance performances on each Sunday of the month.
In an effort to provide an entry point for Sunnyside youth to connect with the culture and heritage of their parents or grandparents, the Thalia also offers low-cost bilingual theatre, movement and dance workshops for children. Other programs include acting/producing workshops for adults, in addition to bilingual Hispanic Dance workshops for kids, beginners and seniors.
To learn more about the Thalia Spanish Theatre and its various programs, visit www.thaliatheatre.org.