After graduating from Yale Drama School, Bernardo Solano spent the following year in Colombia on a Fulbright Hays award. Twenty years later, the Cal Poly Pomona theatre professor is returning to the country on another Fulbright but with a different perspective.
In many respects, it’s a homecoming for Solano, who was born in Colombia. He will direct a play and teach at Universidad Distrital Francisco Jose de Caldas in Bogota beginning July 1.
“I find it satisfying going back after having a full career path. I can make an impact by bringing my experience to the students,” says Solano, who received a Fulbright Lecturing/Teaching award. “This is one of the smaller, less affluent universities, which is really great. They keep asking me how much is it going to cost them, and I keep telling them, ‘It’s not going to cost you a penny.’ They’re so excited.”
On his first visit to Colombia, Solano worked with Teatro Libre de Bogota and wrote an original play for the group. He worked as a playwright for about 15 years before joining the Cal Poly Pomona faculty in 2002. He has directed numerous stage productions at the university and has had his own plays produced at theaters in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago and Washington, D.C. He is also an associate artist of Cornerstone Theater Company in Los Angeles.
During his five-month appointment in Bogota, Solano will be focused on developing a community-based theater project, which he says is a niche specialty of his, with students and community members. Unlike community theater, in which residents and amateur actors put on a Broadway-style show, community-based theater brings together professional artists and ordinary citizens who work together in writing, producing and performing. The plays often, but not always, highlight an important issue, such as diversity, water rights, homelessness or same-sex marriage.
“It often has a socio-political agenda,” Solano says. “The play gives everybody an opportunity to say what they want to say about an issue. On another level, they hope to influence people who have power and make a change.”
This is Solano’s third Fulbright award. In 2005, he was part of a team with Professor Bill Morse, theatre department chair, and two students who worked in Zimbabwe for five weeks on a community-based theater project. Solano hopes to use his experiences in Colombia, Zimbabwe and the United States for a scholarly paper that will examine and compare community-based theater in the three countries.