Carmen Soto's Theater Showcased Hispanic Performers

By Cleere, Jan | AZ Daily Star, November 7, 2015 | Go to article overview

Carmen Soto's Theater Showcased Hispanic Performers


Cleere, Jan, AZ Daily Star


As a child growing up in 1800s Tucson, Carmen Soto must have seen many changes to the small community. The year she was born, 1863, President Lincoln signed into law the establishment of the Territory of Arizona, and in 1867, the capital of the new territory was moved to Tucson.

The Soto family was an integral part of the Old Pueblo. Carmen's mother, Carmela Comaduran de Soto, was a descendant of Antonio Comaduran, once captain of the Royal Presidio of the Fort of San Agustin de Tucson. Her father, Jose Maria Soto, was also from a well- established and prominent Tucson dynasty.

Well educated, Carmen became an important part of the cultural and social revitalization of Tucson at the beginning of the 20th century.

At age 26 she married Ramon Vasquez who owned several successful businesses in Tucson and Nogales, Arizona. With no children of their own, the couple adopted at least 3 children -- Juan Romero, Alicia and Armando. One source indicates a fourth child, Herminia, was also adopted. Carmen was an avid supporter of an orphanage in Nogales.

In 1914, Ramon presented his wife with a plot of land on Meyer Street in downtown Tucson. Carmen knew exactly what she wanted to do with the property. She commissioned self-taught carpenter Manuel Flores to design a theater on the land.

Flores had no formal training as an architect but his carpentry skills had become well known in the community and he was considered a talented and enterprising craftsman. He went on to design and build Santa Cruz Church on South Sixth Avenue as well as Marist College on Ochoa Street.

What Carmen wanted was a place where Mexican and Spanish theatrical troupes could come and perform for the people of Tucson. The building, Teatro Carmen, named for its founder, was crafted in the Sonoran-mission style that was popular at the time.

The adobe structure included an impressively large stage with brilliant lighting, imaginative ornamentations and embellishments that included an embossed ceiling. It could seat up to 1,400 theatergoers.

On May 20, 1915, the theater opened with a performance of the comedy "Cerebro y Corazon" (Heart and Brain), written by Mexican author and poet Teresa Farias Tassi de Isaias. The Tucson Spanish language newspaper, El Tucsonense, praised the new theater, calling it "a great artistic and financial success."

Carmen sought out some of Mexico's most famous actors and actresses, such as Virginia Fabricas, who went on to become a film star, and Elena Madrigal and Arturo Carillo to grace the stage of her theater.

She brought in plays from Spain, operas, dramas -- both historic and contemporary -- comedies, zarzuelas -- a Spanish form of musical comedy -- and sainetes, short burlesque farces. All of this entertainment was presented in Spanish, giving the artists an opportunity to gain fame beyond their own country. …

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