Miriam Colón Valle Papers
Scope and Contents
The Miriam Colón Valle papers are divided into three series. In addition to containing information about Colón's career and the history of the Puerto Rican Traveling Theatre, the collection fills gaps in New York City theatre history and documents the genre of street theatre.
While Colón's personal story is most certainly interwoven with the PRTT records, Colón's personal life and her own acting career, from the time she appeared on stage at the University of Puerto Rico to her final credits in 2015, is documented in the Personal series.
Researchers can access decades of head shots and publicity clippings; speeches delivered by Colón on topics ranging from Hispanic art to opportunities for at-risk youth to the contributions of women to society; and her awards and recognitions. In the Personal series, specific roles are listed under the title of the television program, movie, or theater production and the types of documents are predominately film stills, call sheets, and clippings. Scripts are typically not contained in these files.
The organizational records of the Puerto Rican Traveling Theatre comprise majority of the collection and are gathered in the Subject Files series. This comprehensive series serves as a record of the PRTT’s origin and administration, its performances, and the troupe’s growth over almost 50 years; however the 1960s and 1970s are more heavily represented than later years. Types of documents include correspondence, topical files, production files, grant applications, and other records.
Some of the earliest documents outline the importance of and need for a more visible presence of Puerto Rican arts and culture. These include a proposal for Puerto Rican Center for the Arts and presentations at the Puerto Rican Community Conference and Puerto Rican Cultural Panel given during 1967-1969.
Evidence of the PRTT’s relationship with external funders situates the PRTT in the larger context of funding for Puerto Rican arts. For example, the PRTT was a recipient of regular funding from the New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA) and Colón served on the board, a role that included advocating on behalf of all Puerto Rican arts organizations. The NYSCA files reference concerns about disproportionate funding for Puerto Rican organizations and contain information about allegations of discimination against people of color.
Individual productions are documented through programs, photos, itineraries, and write-ups. Correspondence exchanged by Colón and city officials elaborate on the PRTT’s multi-year endeavor to obtain a former FDNY firehouse as a permanent space.
Files are arranged in alphabetically order by name, topic, or production.
The Video Recordings series, holds over 100 individual items (most of which are VHS tapes), with Colón's demo tapes, short clips of her roles, interviews, and other appearances. Approximately 50 tapes pertain to the Puerto Rican Traveling Theatre. These recordings contain short histories of the PRTT, PSAs in English and Spanish, recordings of performances, and feature stories on Spanish language television channels.
- Majority of material found within 1960s-1970s
- Colón Valle, Miriam (Person)
- Puerto Rican Traveling Theatre (Organization)
Conditions Governing Access
Open to researchers without restrictions with the exception of the audiovisual series, which is generally restricted due to format.
Conditions Governing Use
Copyright held by Fred Valle. Collection is available for personal research and educational purposes.
Biographical / Historical
Miriam Colón Valle (1936-2017) was a renowned Puerto Rican actress whose career spanned seven decades and the founder, executive director, and artistic director of the Puerto Rican Traveling Theatre (PRTT) in New York City.
Colón, was born in Ponce, Puerto Rico on August 20, 1936 and attended Escuela Superior Central in San Juan, Puerto Rico’s Santurce barrio. While still a high school student, Colón participated in school theater productions and drama classes at the University of Puerto Rico. Moving to New York City with a scholarship to the Erwin Piscator Dramatic Workshop and Technical Unit, she launched her acting career on the mainland United States. Colón was an early (and thought to be the first) Puerto Rican member of the Actor’s Studio.
Shortly thereafter, Colón landed Broadway roles for In the Summer House (1953), and the Inn Keepers (1956). Her talent, experience, and connections led to regular television work. By 1960, Colón had appeared in over 20 television episodes of westerns and drama series. Colón was often typecast in ethnic roles to portray one-dimensional Puerto Rican, American Indian, Mexican, and Spanish characters and even a Chinese peasant. At this time Colón appeared in feature films including "One-Eyed Jacks," directed by and starring Marlon Brando, and alongside Tony Curtis in “The Outsider,” both in 1961.
However, it was an Off Broadway play that changed the course of Colón’s career. She starred in La Carreta (The Ox cCmigrant family who seeks a better life on the mainland and settles in the Bronx. Colón had married George P. Edgar (1922-1976), a securities analyst and theatre backer, in 1966. Together they reprised her La Carreta role at the Greenwich Mews Theatre with Edgar as the play's producer. Her co-star, Raúl Juliá, appeared in one of his first stage roles. (After the formation of the PRTT, Juliá continued to perform with the group and served on its board of directors.)
Presenting Puerto Rican plays in formal theater settings was a major achivement, but Colón knew there was a need for professional theatre dedicated to Puerto Rican stories as told by Puerto Rican actors, to Puerto Rican audiences in Puerto Rican communities. In 1967, Colón adapted La Carreta into a street performance and from that, the PRTT came about. While leading the PRTT, Colón continued to accept acting roles. She also appeared in a few PRTT productions (including Antigona Perez) and directed Golden Streets (written by Piri Thomas).
The PRTT regularly received money from the New York State Council on the Arts (NYCAS). Early on in the troupe’s history, Colón was recognized as a steadfast and outspoken advocate for arts funding and addressed discrimination in the NYCAS' funding of Puerto Rican projects. In 1972, Governor Nelson Rockefeller appointed her to the NYSCAS board, where she argued especially for the equitable distribution of funds to minority artists. Colón's leadership roles were not limited to the arts. The American Museum of Natural History also appointed her to its board in 1971 and she served on the board of the Puerto Rican Family Institute.
When the PRTT merged with Pregones Theater in 2014, and Colón remained with the organization as its artistic director. She continued acting into 2015 with several of her last roles beings matriarchal characters, such as Abuelita on the AMC series "Better Call Saul." Colón has over 100 television credits for her roles in sitcoms, drama, crime, westerns, soap operas, and over two dozen feature films. She is especially remembered as Mama Montana in Scarface (1983).
Her accomplishments were recognized with honorary degrees, government proclamations and a 1993 Lifetime Achievement Obie Award. In 2015 President Barack Obama awarded her the National Medal of Arts. Colón died in New York City on March 3, 2017. She was survived by her husband, actor Frank Valle.
The Puerto Rican Traveling Theatre (PRTT) emerged from Miriam Colón's 1966 starring role in René Marqués' La Carreta (The Ox Cart). While Colón acted in mainstream theater and traditional theater venues, she recognized the barriers it imposed for wider audiences. Determined to change this, Colón formed the PRTT and brought the Ox Cart to the city streets in the summer of 1967.
Cognizant of the inaccessibility of traditional theatre, Colón believed live theatre should be brought to audiences of all financial means, in English and Spanish, and in public settings including parks, playgrounds, and streets in all five boroughs. With some performances in Spanish and others in English, the PRTT recognized the effect of assimilation on language use. English productions were not just geared to non-Latinos, but to younger Hispanic generations who were more familiar with English than the Spanish of their parents and grandparents.
By performing in parks, playgrounds, and even on a flat bed truck (and and years later in prisons), the PRTT energetically celebrated Puerto Rican arts and culture by making its free performances relevant to the public. The PRTT brought theater to Puerto Rican enclaves in all five boroughs but the themes the productions explored also had universal appeal to non-Puerto Ricans. Even later, with a permanent, physical theater the PRTT continued its summer street tours, reaching an estimated 10,000 people by 1995.
Under the guidance of its board of directors (which included business leaders) and its advisory board (members included actors Marlon Brando and José Ferrer), the PRTT grew and by its 20th anniversary the PRTT had staged 67 productions including works by Federico García Lorca, Piri Thomas, and Fernando Arrabal. The PRTT operated in part with funding from the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York Foundation and Mayor Lindsay’s Urban Action Task Force. In 2007 the PRTT performed for the first time at the Horizon Juvenile Center in a partnership with the New York City Department of Juvenile Justice.
The PRTT’s aim went beyond exposing underserved audiences to Puerto Rican theater. Wanting to provide teenagers with opportunities to be more than passive spectators, the PRTT established its Training Unit (later to be named for Raúl Juliá) in 1969. Over 4,000 youth engaged in the process of making theatre through free performing arts education. The program proved so popular it regularly had a waiting list for its roughly 250 spots in acting, dance, and vocal training lessons.
The PRTT also nurtured new talent through its Playwrights Unit, a supportive workshop environment for new playwrights of the Puerto Rican disapora to develop their own scripts expressing their experiences in the mainland United States. From 1977 onward, over 125 new American plays were developed, some of which were staged at PRTT, including Eduardo Gallardo’s Simpson Street.
In its first decade, the PRTT remained itinerant, but when Colón noticed a shuttered Manhattan firehouse she saw the possibilities a steady physical space could provide. Following multi-year negotiations with the city and navigating bureaucratic hurdles, the PRTT secured a lease for the former FDNY firehouse at 304 W. 47th St, renovated the space, and opened on March 25, 1981 as a 196 seat venue. The renovated space provided not only stability for the PRTT but also the visibility of being near Broadway theaters, and cemented the PRTT’s status, as a rightful part of a diversifying and creatively expanding theater scene. The PRTT merged with the Bronx-based Pregones Theater in 2014 and continues to perform on 47th Street as of 2022.
Latino Biographies, Multicultural Biographies Collection, Globe Fearon, 1995.
Puerto Rican Traveling Theatre 20th anniversary booklet, 1987.
28 Cubic Feet
Language of Materials
Metadata Rights Declarations
- License: This record is made available under an Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International Creative Commons license.
Actress Miriam Colón Valle founded the Puerto Rican Traveling Theatre and was instrumental in bringing Puerto Rican drama and bilingual theatre to new audiences, especially Latino New York City residents. The Miriam Colón papers primarily document Colón's artistic vision, the productions staged by the Puerto Rican Traveling Theatre, and her own career as a stage and screen actress. The collection spans 1948-2017 and demonstrates the impact and importance of the Puerto Rican Traveling Theatre in the New York arts community.
Arranged in three series:
Immediate Source of Acquisition
Gift of Miriam Colón in 1992 and Fred Valle in 2017.
Collection processed by Susan M. Kline and Wendy Jimenez in 2021-2022.
- Actors and actresses Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Arts, Puerto Rican Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Clippings (Books, newspapers, etc.) Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Correspondence Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Film stills Subject Source: Art & Architecture Thesaurus
- Grant proposals Subject Source: Art & Architecture Thesaurus
- Hispanic American actors Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Hispanic American theater Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Minorities on television Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- New York State Council on the Arts
- Off Off-Broadway theater Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Photographs Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Programs Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Puerto Rican Traveling Theatre
- Puerto Rican drama Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Puerto Rican women -- New York (State) -- New York Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Scripts (documents) Subject Source: Art & Architecture Thesaurus
- Street theater -- New York (State) -- New York Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Theater -- New York (State) -- New York Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Women in the theater Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Valle, Fred (Donor, Person)
- Miriam Colón Valle Papers
- Susan M. Kline
- Description rules
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description
- Script of description
Part of the Archives of the Puerto Rican Diaspora Repository
Silberman Building, Hunter College
2180 Third Ave. Rm. 122
New York New York 10065