Diversity in Linguistics

REP Associate Artistic Director and Latinx Projects Producer Dr. Maria Patrice Amon
shares reflections and discoveries from collaborating with Professor Cynthia Santos-DeCure
to offer a Cuban Dialects master class series. 

I will most definitely not be the first person to say that quarantine sucks, nor the first to recognize how terribly isolating it is.
Quarantine has halted virtually all of our in-person work. For artists accustomed to spending time in community, our social distancing has been a tough practice. Theatre artists create in collaboration. When I shifted the law to theatre, I was amazed at how deep and fundamental collaboration is to theatre’s creation process.
So, after the initial shock of our new reality hit and then chaotic hustle to produce the online San Diego REP Latinx New Play Festival ebbed, I took a moment to consider how we can use these constricting new limitations to our favor. In this time of quarantine, how do we as artists  continue to grow?
As any performer who has valiantly tried to get you to come watch their new zoom play knows, Zoom is a terrible performance medium: the audio lags and cannot overlap, the screens are static, and internet speeds and quality demonstrate some real problems of inequity. But, zoom is the tool we are stuck with.
How, then can we leverage this tool for performance?
We are using zoom to take steps towards radically reframing our approach to dialect. We are using this simple tool to connect over vast distances and teach from a culturally specific center.
Amigos del REP is collaborating with Professor Cynthia Santos-DeCure to offer an introduction to Cuban Dialects master class series. Professor Santos-DeCure takes a revolutionary approach to accent and dialect work; she centers the process on the performer’s unique speech patterns. Every person has their own way of holding speech in their minds and mouths, and that combination can be highly informed by their own cultural specificity. Instead of requiring performers to erase or dismiss their own experiences like in traditional voice training, Professor Santos-DeCure approaches those unique patterns as each performer’s super power, the thing that will enable them to build an accent and dialect.
In our first class session each participant was asked to share their training or experiences with accent work. Our class was composed entirely of Latinx and artists of color, but nearly 80% of the artists present had only been trained in European accents.
This realization was revelatory, it exposed the severe lack of cultural specificity in university training programs and some deep biases that assumed absence of need for this training outside of European accents. Multiple people in the class shared that they had performed Spanish dialects but received no training for those dialects and were often called on to serve as the experts on the dialect in the rehearsal room.
Our Amigos del REP Master Class is important for this reason. We are working to recognize the multiplicity of latinidad. Latinx identity is not a monolith, there is no one way we speak. There is a great spectrum of accents and dialects across latinidad reflecting the diverse regional and cultural influences that impact the ways we form and hold language. It is incorrect to assume that all latinx people speak that same, or that a Chicano dialect is indistinguishable from a Cuban accent.
I have championed developing this Cuban Dialect Master Class as a way to recognize that linguistic diversity at San Diego REP, to expand and enhance the skills of our Amigos del REP artists, and to celebrate this diversity with our audiences.
Join us Friday February 15th at 5pm PSTfor a live reading of Nilo Cruz’ ANNA IN THE TROPICS or catch the recording by February 18th at 11:59pm - go to https://www.sdrep.org/show-detail.php?id=644 for details