Theatre of Rice and Beans tells a previously untold story, about a vital piece of both New York and U.S. theatre history. More than half a century ago, scoring a many-faceted victory against racism, stereotyping, sexism, and the economic odds, René Buch, Miriam Colón and Max Ferra founded what are still New York City’s three most influential Latino playhouses: Repertorio Español, the Puerto Rican Traveling Theatre, and INTAR. From then on, these pioneers provided theatrical voice for many facets of Latinx experience, and crucial room to grow for generations of Latinx theatre professionals, including some very familiar names.
Tony Mata, a theatre director and professor at the University of Florida, worked with all three of these titans of Latino theatre, and didn’t want their incredible achievements to be forgotten. He prepared a meal of rice and beans (a metaphor for what unites Latinos culturally), set up some cameras, and brought Buch, Colón and Ferra together for an unforgettable evening. Their stories of hardship and triumph, their laughter and memories – and their arguments – are the heart of the film.
The documentary goes on to provide both context and concrete evidence of its subjects’ ongoing impact on American theatre history by featuring, among others, playwrights María Irene Fornés and Nilo Cruz, Broadway composer/lyricist, playwright and actor Lin-Manuel Miranda, Broadway star Chita Rivera, and Broadway directors Hal Prince and Graciela Daniele. Their voices are joined by those of other talented artists who were able to hone their skills in the three founders’ theatres, speaking of opportunities previously unavailable, owed to three intrepid people who refused to be defeated by financial struggles or bigotries and made Latino theatre in New York City a reality.