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Washingtonian of the Year 2010: Rebecca and Hugo Medrano

Shining a spotlight on Hispanic culture

Photograph by Steven Voss

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You don’t have to speak Spanish to revel in the richness of Latino culture at GALA Hispanic Theatre—every performance has surtitles. And GALA founders Rebecca and Hugo Medrano create such vivid productions and bring such talented artists to their stage that audiences almost don’t need to know Spanish to enjoy what they see.

The Medranos have “preserved, promoted, and continued the first solely Hispanic theater in DC for decades, educating children and the public in the classics,” says Dorothy McSweeny, former chair of the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities. “In times of economic stress, they have hardly taken salaries in order to present a season of the best plays and artists from all over the Latino world.”

Argentinean-born Hugo is the actor and director. Rebecca, a self-described “artistic soul trapped in a funder’s body” runs the business end. Together they have created a center for Hispanic performing arts that attracts Washington’s diverse Latino residents, the diplomatic community, and a growing audience of non-Latinos.

Since 1976, GALA has staged more than 165 productions, including classical Spanish dramas; Latin American plays; original musicals, dance performances, concerts, poetry readings, and films; and works by local Latino youth. The theater brings bilingual programs to elementary schools. And with the Washington Performing Arts Society, it has produced the annual ArteAméricA series, introducing Washington audiences to Latino performers.

In the process, the theater has won five Helen Hayes Awards—the local equivalent of the Tonys—including best lead actor in a resident play for Hugo’s performance in Kiss of the Spider Woman. GALA has been honored for its work by the king of Spain, the National Puerto Rican Coalition, and the Cultural Alliance of Greater Washington.

Now GALA has a stunning new home in the old Tivoli Theatre in DC’s Columbia Heights and—a luxury for a theater—its own parking lot. But the Medranos haven’t lost the artistic fire that made audiences take notice in GALA’s humbler days. The new space inspires the couple to reach out to a wider community.

Says Hugo: “At GALA, language is a bridge, not a barrier.”

This feature first appeared in the January 2011 issue of The Washingtonian.

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