WASHINGTON (DC News Now)—Step inside the Tivoli Center, take your seat, and wait for the lights to go on.

That is when the magic happens.

“Theatre at the end, it’s come here with me, sit down with me, let me move you, let me touch you, let me feel you and you feel me. So, there’s kind of, to me, kind of a changing life component,” said Luz Nicolás.

Nicolás is an actor and performs with GALA Hispanic Theatre.

GALA, or Grupo de Artistas LatinoAmericanos, is a Hispanic theater company based in Columbia Heights. Started in 1976, the theater shares the work of Hispanic artists, writers, and directors and aims to preserve the right Latino culture on the big stage.

“It was crazy, it was very bohemia, but I believed in Hugo’s dream,” said Rebecca Medrano, Executive Director of GALA.

Medrano co-founded the theater with her late husband, Hugo Medrano.

“His dream was that you had to bring together these diverse cultures of others to be one unified message to the larger public about the beauty and richness of Latino culture, said Medrano.  “He managed to bridge all of those cultures.”

The group first started as bilingual theater for children, and later expanded to include shows for adults.

Performances were held in a townhome in Adams Morgan. But, later moved to a space downtown, a Catholic school, and eventually the Tivoli building where GALA is still performing today.

Shows are primarily done in Spanish, with English subtitles.

“Our mantra, which I think is really what keeps our vision focused, is to introduce people to those writers they may not know,” said Medrano.

Medrano believes GALA serves as a hub for the Hispanic community in Washington, D.C.

“A lot of people here, especially from South America or Latin America, are on government contracts. It really anchors them in D.C. if they’re new,” she explained. “The need changes, the demographic changes. There are more Central Americans now, but there’s still that need to stay attached to your culture, to stay attached to your family. And we are one big family.”

According to the latest census data, Hispanics and Latinos make up 12% of the population in D.C.

GALA offers a source of connectivity and familiarity for that population through a common language and culture.

“They just believe in it, and continue to believe in the need to preserve, promote and enrich and uplift the culture for our kids and the future generations. I mean where else are they going to see it?” said Medrano.

For Nicolás, who moved to the United States from her home country of Spain, performing in her native language adds a level of intimacy to her performance.

“To (perform) in Spanish it makes you touch the heart of people speaking your own language, but at the same time what you are really experiencing with them is it doesn’t matter the language,” said Nicolás. “Because even if they don’t understand us, they feel us. And that’s something you have to do in theater and take it out to your life.”

The two women hope the theater serves as a safe space for those in the Hispanic community.

“(I hope they feel) connected to a family, to their family, to their country to their heritage, to their heritage language. So, they don’t feel they have to only speak Spanish here. And that they can be understood and accepted and be proud of it,” said Medrano.

 And for those who visit who do not speak Spanish, Medrano hopes the audience members feel inspired to learn more.  

“I hope they feel included and that they’re excited about the stories they hear and that they get curious to hear more.”

Bathing in Moonlight, written and directed by Pulitzer Prier winner Nilo Cruz, is currently on stage through October 1.

For more information, visit https://www.galatheatre.org/