"If I go, if this gets me, what do I leave behind?"
That's what Enrique Andrade wondered as the coronavirus pandemic transformed his life. A play he had planned to appear in at Milagro Theatre was canceled, which felt like a gut punch as theatrical companies across the city folded their productions. But his work as an interpreter for the Oregon judicial system qualified him as "essential personnel," increasing his risk of exposure to the virus as well as his anxiety about the uncertainties surrounding the health crisis.
"I felt a certain sense of abandonment," Andrade says. "I'm not a military guy, but it almost felt like I was in the vanguard of an attack, waiting for the bombs to start falling."
Then Andrade was asked to contribute to Nueva Frontera ("new frontier" in Spanish), a series of interviews and YouTube shorts featuring Milagro artists—an opportunity that he embraced with zeal.
"I started recording and speaking from the heart," he says. "Once they said, 'Go ahead and create something,' I thought, 'This is it,' and it came together."
Andrade—whose voice you'll recognize as the Spanish version of the safety instructions on TriMet's MAX trains—wasn't the only Milagro artist who answered the call. Many of the Latinx company's contributors have shared their stories via Nueva Frontera, which features acting, singing and even an art class. For audiences missing Milagro's beautifully brash and colorful productions, the platform has helped preserve its presence while the stage lies empty.
Nueva Frontera sprouted from a question: "What can we offer," says the series' main programmer, Miguel Acuña, "if we're not going to be able to offer a physical space anymore?"
The answer arrived "when we found that we wanted the series to be about the people of Milagro," says Farah Haidari, marketing and communications associate, "because when we're not a space, we are still the people involved in Milagro."
Haidari is in charge of distributing Nueva Frontera's content online, and Acuña, who is also Milagro's community engagement coordinator, focuses on developing episodes. He has assembled a lineup that includes actor-playwright Jonathan Hernandez reading from his play Mijo, Milagro co-founder Dañel Malan teaching the art of self-portraiture, and Andrade narrating a montage of behind-the-scenes photos and footage from Milagro's canceled production of Beto O'Byrne's new play, The Corrido of the San Patricios. Abandoning the play—which is based on the true story of 200 Irish immigrants who deserted from the U.S. Army in 1846 and fought for Mexico during the Mexican-American War—was traumatic for Andrade.
"You not only have the frustration of not seeing the final work product, not seeing this creation happen," he says, "but you can't touch anybody anymore, you can't hug anybody, you can't be your full human being."
Watching Nueva Frontera is both cheerful and sobering. The artists' enthusiasm is palpable—Emily Hogan's performance of the Christmas song "Noche de paz" is particularly buoyant—but it's painful facing the reality that the series may be all that Milagro can offer during the next few months.
"There's a lot of conversation about potentially live streaming events or shifting entirely to a virtual space in the future, just because there's a lot of uncertainty about when theaters will be open and when people will feel comfortable and safe in those spaces again," says Acuña. "It's still an ongoing discussion, just as it is with every facet of society at the moment."
Despite the unsettling of the universe that is Portland theater, Milagro appears energized. Acuña and Haidari have more episodes of Nueva Frontera to unveil—including a cooking demonstration by Tamale Boy founder and CEO Jaime Sotero, a Milagro board member—and Andrade has found solace in sharing his passion for The Corrido of San Patricios via video. Even though Milagro couldn't perform the play, he believes that its tale of hard times and hard choices remains relevant.
"I wanted the video to be one thing that could be left as a record of my existence here on earth," Andrade says. "I think what the pandemic is showing us is that in our normal lives, we were very distracted and we could not figure out what was essential or important for existing. And in the play, war makes it very clear what is important to the characters, who is important in their lives, what their beliefs are, what they are fighting for."
SEE IT: Nueva Frontera streams for free on YouTube. You can find links to the videos at milagro.org.