At 20

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Quoted from Su Teatro: 20 Year Anthology by Tony Garcia

Foreword

Su Teatro: 20 Year Anthology is perhaps more of an overview of my participation in the company than a historical compilation. Perhaps, because of our geographical location and because our impact on social and cultural activity has been gradual and not as dramatic as a group such as El Teatro Campesino, there has never been an independent chronicler of Su Teatro. It is therefore left to future El Centro Su Teatro archivists to someday present that perspective.

 

The Beginnings

 When Su Teatro was formed in January of 1971, El Teatro Campesino was already on the cutting edge of the theatrical world. In fact, it was after seeing a performance by El Teatro that Rowena Rivera and a handful of others decided to form a class at the University of Colorado at Denver, entitled, “Intro to Chicano Theatre.” Some, but not all of the original members were, Tep Falcon, Arturo Valdez, Yvonne Sanchez, Rocky Hernandez, Chris Montoya, Dalia Longoria, Carmelita Muniz, Diana DeHerrera and Alicia Lucero.

 

 

I joined Su Teatro in June of 1972. I was 19, a student at UCD and an active member of the United Mexican American Students. Mateo Torres, Carlos Santillanez and I were boyhood friends, who although lacking formal training had all performed at one time or another. Of the three, I was the least talented: Carlos was an accomplished singer and guitarist, and Mateo was an award winning playwright. I sang, played guitar and acted; none of these I did well. Arturo Valdez, in my opinion, was the creative leadership when I joined. Tep and Diana, however, were the political and spiritual strength of the group. Alfredo Sandoval became a member of the company at about the same time as Mateo, Carlos and myself. He soon developed into the strongest actor in the company.

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Su Teatro performance at Sloan’s Lake

 

Within two years, the company had changed tremendously. In the fall of 1973, I had left the teatro because I was going to school at the University of Colorado in Boulder. Even though it was only 20 miles away, it was a world apart. I returned in the spring of 1974, to find the new teatro members preparing to attend the 5th Annual TENAZ (Teatros Nacionales de Aztlan) Festival. It was called El Primer Encuentro Latinoamericano and it was to take place in Mexico City in the summer of 1974.

 

 

In the spring of 1973, I had written a couple of small actos for the company: one was called Reyes and Raul. It was about two young Chicanos, one male and one female, caught up in a futuristic foxhole of the impending Chicano Revolution. The other was an agit-prop piece written after the death of Luis Jr. Martinez, a young Chicano affiliated with the Crusade for Justice, who was killed in a shoot-out with the Denver Police Department. I do not remember the name of the “acto” but the intent was to draw attention to the violence of the police. I remember being furious about the piss poor performance of the teatro, and vowing never to write for the teatro again, unless I could direct the piece as well. Su Teatro, however, was neither ready nor willing to accept direction from its youngest and least talented member.

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Sloan’s Lake Performance

 

When I rejoined Su Teatro after returning from Boulder in the spring of 1974, I began working closely with Alfredo Sandoval who was now directing the company. He was working on an original piece to be performed with the Denver Symphony Orchestra. The DSO would perform Manuel DeFalla’s The Three Cornered Hat and the teatro would perform in front of the symphony. Needless to say, the marriage was a very unhappy union; however, it gave me my first opportunity for hands on directing. Prior to that time I had to direct through Alfredo. Although Alfredo was officially the director, who had done a tremendous job in recruiting members and maintaining the teatro, more and more I was being given opportunities to direct:  all with Alfredo’s encouragement and support.

 

 

Before it begins to appear as though everyone was just mean to me, I have to admit that I was not the most pleasant person. For every progressive idea I offered, I was always able to counter with a strong dose of immaturity. None of these worked to solidify my leadership.

 

It took years to convince some people that I was serious about my work. My actions made it difficult for me to win respect for my work and for Su Teatro. Although in retrospect the talents and efforts of the core group were tremendous, I really believe that the contribution of each individual member of Su Teatro has been to the larger body of work that marks Su Teatro as a significant agent in the Chicano Teatro Movement.

 

La Familia sin Fabiano

After the DSO fiasco, I began working on what would be Su Teatro’s first full length play. It was called, La Familia Sin Fabiano. The story line centered around the death of the father, Fabiano, and the chain-reaction that occurs throughout the family. The eldest son is an Army veteran, and has become a gung-ho “American,” the middle daughter is married to a Euro-American, who despises Fabiano and all that he represents culturally, and the hero is the youngest Chicano militant son. The father represented Mexico and his Mejicanismo is to be honored, respected and resurrected. It was not a unique message, but one that was being played out in Chicano homes across the country. It also presented themes being duplicated on Chicano stages across the country.

 

La Familia Sin Fabiano was not a very good play, but it featured many of the political and artistic influences prevalent in the Chicano cultural movement. It still was, nonetheless a straight drama. And it represented the highest level of Su Teatro’s development. It was the first play I directed. And it also advanced my position as an artistic leader in the company.

 

After performances in Mexico City at the TENAZ Festival, the play was rewritten to include all the new ideas to which we had been exposed. Somehow, through a quirk in scheduling, we ended up as the opening act for the “world famous” El Teatro Campesino, and upon returning to Denver, the play began to look a lot like their production of La Carpa de los Rasquachis. The play now included elements of  mito, agitprop, social realism, and more music to accompany the action as actors moved in and out of character in an unknowing reference to Bertolt Brecht.

 

After returning from Mexico, many members of the company quit. The experience represented their peak interest in the theatre. What was left was a stronger core of performers, charged up by their experience and dedicated to the advancement of “the cultural arm of the revolutionary struggle,” as the TENAZ’ (Teatros Nacional de Aztldn the Festivil’s sponsoring group) principles of unity read.

 

In the fall of 1974, the company included Alfredo Sandoval, Paul Marin, Blanca Lucero, Tony Lucero, their daughter Nikki Lucero, Carlos Santillanez, and Benito Montoya – all had been on the trip to Mexico with us. There were two new members who would prove to be the most significant additions to the company.

 

Yolanda Ortega and Debra Gallegos

Yolanda Ortega had joined the teatro prior to the TENAZ Festival, but too late to be a part of the trip. Yolanda could sing, act, dance and spoke Spanish fluently. This was a valuable asset for a group of third and fourth generation inner-city pochos, only just rediscovering their history and language. She had some formal acting training. But mostly, she was an experienced performer. Many of the Colorado teatros, at one time there were ten, were activists becoming performers. Su Teatro consisted of performers becoming activists.

 

Tony, Angel, Rudy and Debra in Intro to Chicano History:101
Tony, Angel, Rudy and Debra in Intro to Chicano History:101

 

Debra Gallegos was the newest member. She had acted in high school; She played the guitar and, along with Yolanda, they created a vocal interweaving that made them sound as one. With Carlos, Yolanda, Debra and myself, Su Teatro became a very strong musical company. We have been able to attract other musicians, in particular singers, over the years: that tradition which cohered in 1974, continues to this day.

 

In 1975, the company began work on the first full length production that would emphasize the newly developed musical strength of Su Teatro. It was to be a story about the neighborhood in the old Westside of Denver, near St. Cajetan’s Church. It was where I had grown up and it had been the religious, cultural, and political center of the Chicano community. Without going into the treacherous political mechanizations that led to the depopulation of this community in order to build what is now called the Auraria Higher Education Center, I will say that the loss was very difficult for the Chicano community.

 

It was while walking to rehearsal one afternoon that I passed along Ninth St., perhaps the main pedestrian thoroughfare of the neighborhood, that I saw the houses that were boarded up – the ghosts of neighbors, families and friends seemed to call out. Places where I had seen life begin, celebrated and end, now seemed muzzled and pained. I remember going to rehearsal and presenting an idea for the next production.

 

It would be a “a corrido,” which literally is a story put to music, however as presented in teatro Chicano, it was a play put to music. It would become El Corrido de Auraria, Auraria being the indigenous name for the neighborhood, which was later being revived by developers. That night we improvised the first scenes, and still struggling with our reborn Spanish, wrote the first verse of the El Corrido de Auraria.

Aqui vivmos en el barrio de Westside Denver, Los vecinos son como compadre, Trabajamos, lloramos y cantamos, Porque somos todo lo que tenemos.

 

The development of the play took fully a year, and was still evolving in 1976 when it took a new direction to include anti-United States bicentennial messages. It also incorporated a poem by Abelardo “Lalo” Delgado, one of the chingon poet gods of the Chicano Movement. El Corrido represents the establishment of stylistic constants that would become recognized in Su Teatro’s work: that being the incorporation of music and action. The music at times served as a Greek chorus, commenting on the action. At times the singing bore no relationship to the themes, thus utilizing the music to counterpoint the themes.

 

An example of this would be a love song that would backup a particularly violent scene. This concept went back to La Familia sin Fabiano, where Johnny the youngest son is being beaten by the police to the strains of a soft folksong. For the first time, in El Corrido, thanks to Debra and Yolanda, we had personnel to experiment more in this area. We drew other members who also possessed musical experience: Debora Montoya, James Cortez and Deborah Roybal. El Corrido toured Colorado. It was rewritten in 1982 and had a very successful run at the Slightly Off Center theater and included a weekend at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. Later, it was revived and once again rewritten and then renamed El Corrido del Barrio. In 1990, it opened the second season at El Centro Su Teatro.

In 1977, I wanted to move on to create a new work. I had become fascinated with the story of the Ludlow mining strike. Much of this had to do with my increasing working-class consciousness and the discovery that what many thought was a strike that was led by Italians, Russians and other nationalities, also included large participation by the Mexicanos that lived in Southern Colorado where the strike took place. In fact, it was the large number of Mexicanos who were killed in the subsequent massacre that really drew my interest.

 

The original Ludlow script

It was during this time that the brewery workers went on strike against the Adolph Coors Brewing Company. For those familiar with Coors and the Coors family, you know that they have a long history of antagonism towards workers and are staunchly anti-union. Also, money has been, in my opinion, funneled by Coors into non-profit organizations such as the Heritage Foundation, Mountain States Legal Foundation, the Independence Institute and the Mountains States Employers Council, who have in turn sponsored and supported legislation and actions that have been detrimental for Chicanos. Given this deep seeded conviction, the strike was a tremendous inspiration for the play.

 

The play was performed in various locations throughout Colorado. However, it often represented the dogmatic and sometimes stilted aesthetics of the political positions the group held during that time. It also represented a transition. Yolanda was not working with us at this time, and Debra, who had established herself as the best actor in the company, through Ludlow, was leaving. We were anxiously looking for a replacement. Other veterans were moving into marriages and raising families and had less time for the teatro and their replacements did not have the experience or the skills to maintain the level of quality. In 1978, Ludlow; El Grito de las Minas was performed for the last time, in Boulder, in what would be Debra’s last official performance with Su Teatro.

 

The original production of Ludlow; El Grito de las Minas included two new members, Jody Ewing and Sheila Perez, who have continued to be supportive of Su Teatro and its goals.

 

The Movement in Transition

For nearly two years, from the Spring of 1978 until the winter of 1979, Su Teatro consisted of Sheila Perez, Veronica Benavidez, myself and anyone else we could get to perform with us. Debra, Yolanda and Jody had banded together to form a musical group, which they called Flor de la Quebrada. They had been influenced by the Nueva Cancion Movement which was very strong in Chile and other parts of Latin America.

 

During this time, Su Teatro produced collective performances with Flor de la Quebrada and an actual Chilean group known as Los Chasquis (the Messengers). The company was not strong enough to produce work on its own. This was the closest to folding I can recall Su Teatro ever being. The individuals as well as the company were searching for some source of inspiration in the pre-Reagan, post-revolutionary times.

 

In looking back, this period confirms a trend that I believe has facilitated Su teatro’s survival. Every ebb that we had was followed by a period of rebuilding that made Su Teatro stronger. There were three major ebbs. The first was when Alfredo rebuilt the company after I left for Boulder in 1974. The next period was when everyone went in different directions in 1978, and in 1983, when the turmoil of our personal lives caused all hell to break loose.

 

Artistic growth has pulled Su Teatro out of each of its slumps. In 1974, it was the productions of La Familia sin Fabiano and El Corrido del Barrio that were clearly better works than any that the previous membership had produced.

 

In 1979, it was the addition of Rudy Bustos, Judy Sandoval and Angel Mendez-Soto, which culminated in the production of El Corrido de Auraria at the Slightly Off Center theater in 1982. The 1984 slump was broken with the addition of Sherry Coca-Candelaria and the return of Debra Gallegos for the production of Intro to Chicano History: 101 at the Public Theatre in New York City in 1985.

The Funk

The period of 1979 through 1984 was known as “the Funk,” but not as a reference to the mindless popular musical trends that included disco, funk and self-absorbed tributes to the cultural wasteland that was taking place throughout the country during this time period. “The Funk,” did not represent some monotonous ass shaking dance experience: it referred to a stifling, depressing, non-creative period in Su Teatro’s history. Little did we realize that the entire country was in the same condition. The country was rushing to the right and some Chicanos were declaring the Movement dead and becoming Hispanics for the sake of their own survival. Such was the winter of Ronald Reaganism.

 

In the early years, we did not realize that we were in a rut. However, the record of our work indicates that we were. Rudy Bustos joined the company in December of 1979. His addition gave us another musician for the company. He was a singer and guitarist and he understood musical arrangement. He was an objective voice between the musical opinions of Debra, Yolanda, and myself. He helped solidify the musical component, which was all we really were, at that time. A Su Teatro performance in 1980 might include Rudy and myself, Angel on flute, and Judy singing with either Debra, Yolanda or Jody, depending on who we conned into performing. True to our, “Everyone can participate” roots, performances also included two 12 year-olds: Cindy Lopez and Shawna Daily.

 

After years of seeing our work as primarily a support mechanism for political issues, and also being told this by our so-called leftist allies, we began to feel the frustration of never developing ourselves as artists. For years we had been called in to keep the rally lively, between the monotony of the more “important” political speeches. Every intellectual could tell you all about the importance of art and culture, but none knew what to do about it. Art and culture were mostly belittled by people who saw it as frivolous, but were willing to use the teatro opportunistically, if it meant drawing people to their events.

 

There were also two different viewpoints, with in the teatro, about what the teatro should be doing. Some people felt it was best served by being a “living leaflet,” if you will, of the movement. They felt it was okay for the company to be producing immediate, although not significant skits to support an increasingly ungrateful left. We received regular calls to perform at rallies, demonstrations and political events. We mostly performed last to assure that the important speakers were heard first.

 

There were also those who felt that the cultural work alone was a big enough area of work. I guess it is clear that I was on the second group’s side. The final straw came when we found out that these same white leftists that had criticized our political commitment and tried to guilt trip us into countless free performances, were paying large dollars to out of town visiting cultural performers, whom they treated with extreme respect and consideration.

 

We lost our fear or guilt in asking for money: we also let it be known that we were going into workshop and were available for performances only with advance notice and on a limited basis.

 

El Corrido del Barrio

Steven Saldana as Piri Mendoza in El Corrido del Barrio.
Steven Saldana as Piri Mendoza in El Corrido del Barrio.

 

The quality of our performances rose when the company performed El Corrido de Auraria at the Slightly Off Center theater for six weeks. We finally achieved a level of what we had long sought, that being the respect of our community and our political peers. We would never look at ourselves in the old way.

 

By the end of the run, El Corrido was playing to overflow houses, and was clearly being talked about in the Chicano community in a way that was causing the conservative Hispanics sorts to have to deal with us. At this time, unbeknownst to us, there were forces who believed that the cultural movement was best served by presenting a more modified view of the Mexican-American experience. To this end, they advanced the position that Su Teatro was too radical and that Tony Garcia was too angry and too difficult to work with. The second part was probably true, but Su Teatro has never been too radical, at least for my tastes. In keeping with this viewpoint, they advanced themselves to the major institutions as viable alternatives to political art. On the contrary, El Corrido de Auraria which was too preachy for some, was invited to be presented at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. The weekend run in the 400 seat house ran to 3/4 capacity.

 

The significance of this event was multi-fold: during the Slightly Off Center run, I was not a member of Su Teatro. Feeling that I could not operate under the democratic-collectivism of the then Su Teatro structure (under this structure, the directors casting choices had to be reviewed and approved by the company– I wanted to audition and cast as I saw fit), I requested a leave of absence and paid royalties to produce my own play. As producer-director-author, I was able to make personnel and artistic choices, free from the often personal and political pressure of the internal Su Teatro workings.

 

I asked Debra and Yolanda to serve as producers of the play. They helped with the rewrites, which were significant. Yolanda used many of her contacts to provide audition space and tons of community outreach. Being well known and respected in the community, as well as linked into professional circles, Yolanda proved a bridge to people that I could only piss off. Steve Munro, a local theatrical director and producer, spent hours talking to me about the ins and outs of theater producing. He actually took me by the hand and introduced me to the local theater media. The coverage by the press was tremendous: it was unheard of for a company such as ours to be getting so much attention, while our business and political leaders ignored us.

Mark Gitlis, who ran the Slightly Off Center theater (which was called slightly off center, because the stage was slightly off center from the audience) allowed me to be immediately inserted into his season and to direct a play, with a script he had never seen, until he joined the cast for the second production. Roy Crawford was the house technical director at SOC and he also joined us for the Denver Center run. He would be with us four years later in New York for Intro to Chicano History:101.

 

The SOC run gave me access to people with greater theatrical as well as teaching experience, I was learning. From technical language to theatrical norms, this was a unique experience for all of us. For the first time I was making financial and artistic decisions, and growing more confident in my ability to do so. El Corrido de Auraria made money and the actors got paid a small stipend. I made money and we made an impact. El Corrido had brought Chicanos, many seeing theater for the first time, to see a play about themselves. And they were willing to pay the five dollar cover for this experience. It contradicted the mainstreamers, who felt that political theater was passe and that we needed the dominant culture to legitimize ourselves. El Corrido proved that we could succeed on our own.

 

I left the teatro after El Corrido at the Slightly Off Center, feeling that the demands of the company were causing too much strain on my marriage (but perhaps secretly feeling that the marriage was putting too much of a demand on my teatro). When the offer to perform at the DCPA arrived, Su Teatro hired Dutch Shindler to act as producer, and me to direct. While the show produced large, primarily Chicano audiences, we had begun to add loyal followers of white political types and theatregoers. Nonetheless, the production lost money.

 

The lessons I learned confirmed some things that I had known and corrected some things that I thought I knew. It reinforced my suspicions about large Euro-American institutions, even art institutions. It proved that there was a uniqueness and a high quality to our work. I began for the first time to see myself as a playwright. It proved that the dominant culture could not give  legitimacy to my work, no matter how much I might try to appease it. It also established Su Teatro as a much broader force in the Chicano community. This is what I knew: what I did not understand was that there was an even bigger need for what we were doing; that we were not, in fact, an isolated voice in the shadow of the Reagan years, but instead there existed others like us. And, also that Su Teatro could no longer work as a collective in every aspect. If I was to direct, I had to make casting and artistic choices.

 

 

Rudy Bustos emerged from El Corrido as an administrative leader. He arranged bookings to retire the debt to the Denver Center. He along with Judy Sandoval, moved to incorporate the organization legally within the state of Colorado. Also, after taking over the lead in El Corrido, he began to act more. He helped to keep the company functioning. He also provided artistic direction in guiding the music. Even though all my Latin American influenced songs began to have a New Mexican garage band feel to them, the company was now charged up to perform.

 

 

I had left the company with no plan to return. I had been unemployed off and on, going through a variety of jobs. I also had family issues as my older sister was dying from a brain tumor. I was drinking heavily and felt as though I was pretty much on my own.

 

 

Serafin: Cantos y Lagrimas 

During this time the diaries of my father began to haunt me. After his death, my sister Rachel had given me a calendar that he had used as a diary. On days when he was drinking, he wrote D. When he would stop he would write, ” Today I didn’t. Couldn’t get out of bed. Threw up.” For the second day, “Stayed in bed, threw up a little, couldn’t eat.”

 

What I realized was that alcohol had become the center of his life: before himself and before his family. He was bent on self-destruction. I understood that I was harboring

Angel Mendez Soto as Serafin.
Angel Mendez Soto as Serafin.

the same artist fantasies; “live fast, die young and leave a good looking corpse.” I wanted to explore that darkness in which my father lived, as I had been a part of it when I was drunk and obviously couldn’t figure a damn thing out.

 

I spent time studying drunks, which today we would call street people. I seldom spoke to them because to learn, I had to listen. I spent a few all nighters hanging out near the warehouses and under the bridges.

 

When the time came to write Serafin: Cantos y Lagrimas it took me all of 53 hours. I wrote for two days straight on a very ineffective typewriter that my ex-wife had given me. I worked straight, only taking breaks to eat, stretch and move away from the deep pain this character carried. I began at 10 p.m. Friday night and finished at around 5 a.m. on Sunday morning. It was as though I had journeyed a lifetime in a weekend. I had passed through my father’s life and into mine. I rousted the people I loved and shared the script. Even in its raw form, we all realized that Serafin: Cantos y Lagrimas was a deeper and stronger work than any I had previously produced. It was also the first script I had completed alone, without the teatro’s help.

 

Although I do remember Angel and Sherry being in the room while I was writing Luisito’s death scene. We took a break, because we knew that Serafin’s son would die in the next few words. While Angel went to the bathroom and Sherry went into the kitchen, I returned to the typewriter and completed the scene. When they came back into the room, the deed was done: Luisito was dead.

 

Years later, when my daughter would accept on my behalf the local critic’s award for Best New Play or some shit like that, she would say that even though she never knew Simon Garcia, her grandfather, perhaps Serafin was giving her back her father. I often think that maybe my father’s gift to me was this play that made me believe I was a writer.

 

Serafin was completed in the summer of 1985. It was performed at the First Annual Summer Showcase at the Changing Scene Theatre. It was while carrying set pieces and platforms up the stairs at 2 o’clock on a Sunday morning that I realized that Su Teatro needed its own home. The revelation actually came to me in the realization that I was too old to carry this shit.

 

However, before we could follow up the successful workshop of Serafin: Cantos y Lagrimas and move into our own building, Intro to Chicano History:101 happened. In the ten months since I stopped drinking, I had written 3 plays: Serafin, a mediocre piece called And the Worm Turns and the last play, a musical-historical overview of 450-plus years since the conquest of the New World, Intro to Chicano History: 101.

 

I had been developing the play for sometime but had never attempted to produce it because the personnel in the company were not strong enough musically. But when Su Teatro was invited to perform at the Latino Theater Festival, at the Public Theater in New York City, that much changed. This cast included myself, Rudy, Sherry, and Angel. Debra Gallegos and Alfredo Sandoval were added to speed the development of the show. My daughter, Micaela was written into the play, so she could make the trip to New York.

 

Additionally, a longtime friend of mine Jaime Gomez, a playwright, director, musician and performer was brought in to help me. Jaime who writes under the name Armando Carnal, allowed us to use his song La Gran Gente del Sol (Gente Valiente) and introduced the character of the Vato Loco as the protagonist in the play. After New York, Intro developed a life of its’ own, with extended runs at the Little Theatre at Denver University and much later at El Centro Su Teatro. The play also traveled the Southwest and Mexico, logging well over 200 performances.

 

Due to the overwhelming success of Intro to Chicano History:101 everything was placed on the back burner until 1987 when the company reorganized itself for the purchase of the building. I had grown weary of traveling and scrambling for space. The plan was very simple: we would purchase a building in the barrio: we would perform plays I had written; everyone would come and life would be so easy.

 

El Centro Su Teatro

Everyday on my way from picking up my daughter at day care, Micaela would point to the Elyria Elementary School building and say “Thats gonna be my school. Huh Dad?” The school had been closed for a couple of years, and the talk was that it would soon be used as a pre-school and day care center. I looked forward to the day I wouldn’t have to drive her across town to another daycare center. Years later, storyteller Jerry Lawson, knowing that I was looking for a home for the theater, suggested the Elyria School building. I remember telling her how wrong it was, and that she should really mind her own business, as I knew what was best for Su Teatro. She insisted, so I asked Debra to see what she could find out.

 

It turns out that the building had been vacant, and since my daughter was now in middle school, time had pretty much run out on that pre-school idea, at least for me it had. Jerry Garcia, who worked for the Community Development Agency for the city was actually responsible for the building. Jerry was an old acquaintance of the teatro, and had helped Su Teatro in its first attempt to establish a centro when he was the director of the Denver Inner City Parish. It seems that getting this building was in fact, a very real possibility.

 

The drive to establish El Centro Su Teatro benefited from two external factors: one was the collapse of the local real estate market thanks to Neil Bush and his cronies in the Savings and Loan fiasco, and the other was the establishment of the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District and the arts tax that went with it. Although the vast majority of the money went to support the major ( established Euro-centric) arts centers, some of money actually trickled down to community based arts centers of color.

 

The Elyria Elementary School building was acquired on my birthday in April. I remember Debra calling me at the print shop where I was working to wish me a happy birthday. I was immediately suspicious, because it was the first time in the 12 years I had known Debra that she had called me at work to recognize my birthday. She then told me that she had gotten a call from Jerry Garcia telling her that the building was ours.

 

El Centro Su Teatro opened on May 12, 1989. It was to become the precipice of a long time vision of the founding and core members of the company. At the opening ceremony, Grupo Tiano consecrated the grounds, Bill High and Sonora Catering provided the dinner, and the company performed Intro to Chicano History:101, for the first time in its own home, in the classroom that would someday serve as administrative offices.

 

It would also become home to my work: it presented an opportunity of a lifetime to me. I had a company of actors, a theater in which to work, and peers who had established a sharp understanding of my artistic vision and were keen in their ability to criticize and correct my work.

 

In the Fall of 1989, we opened the season with Serafin: Cantos y Lagrimas. Because of the success of Intro, we had not had the opportunity to produce Serafin, which became a tremendous success, running for three months in the newly renovated theater space. Over the years, El Centro was the home for the world premiere of Ludlow; El Grito de las Minas and The Day Ricardo Falcon Died.

 

Both plays had earlier beginnings. Ludlow, was completely re-worked – except for the title and the opening song it was a new play. Ricardo Falcon came into being  because of a clause in the Chicano Playwrighting contest, a national contest originating out of the University of California at Irvine. Having won the award for playwriting previously, I was no longer eligible in that category, so I was encouraging others to apply. On a bet with a friend, I agreed to write a short story to match hers and we would then submit them together. Neither of us won, but I liked my story enough to write a first act and call it a play.

 

I wrote Obsidian Rain while I was in San Antonio working on El Milagro a play by acclaimed Mexican director Felipe Santander. I had heard about the strip mining being done in San Luis and about the chemicals being used to extract gold from the mountains, and in the process poisoning the water, and I wanted to make a statement about it. Little Hands Hold the Wind was commissioned by Ruby Nelda Perez, as a one person show. The play has not seen the light of day as a production, but was produced as an audio-drama cassette. The problem with an audiodrama is that not only do people not read anymore, they flat out can’t listen. I present Little Hands to you because I think it is a good story, and has something to say.

 

In reading this Anthology, you will find the path of a “Generation’s Journey,” one we began as teenagers, and that we have continued into middle age. Su Teatro is the third oldest Chicano Theater company that has operated continuously since inception. It has offered its work as a cultural and artistic commitment to its community and the country. As you turn the pages, it is not only my words that you will be reading, it will be my words channeled through the creative spirits and relayed through the interpretations of Debra, Yolanda, Rudy, Angel, Sherry, Manuel, Alfredo and the other members of the company, of which I am proud to say, that I am but one.

1986

Intro to Chicano History: 101 projected Su Teatro onto a national stage. Scenes from the work-in-progress were presented in 1986, in an audition for Joseph Papp’s prestigious Latino Theater Festival. The company was invited to perform and did, following up the subsequent trip to New York with tours of the Southwest and Mexico.

 

 

Intro to Chicano History: 101 is a two act musical perspective that spans 500 years of the Chicano history, from the conquest of Mexico onward to contemporary urban issues. Over the years, there have been more than 200 performances of Intro… revivals of the production in 1996 proved as popular as ever. It was the first production when El Centro opened May 12, 1989. The play also toured with a cast of junior members of the company.

 

What the critics said:

“A sentimental celebration of Chicano culture, and an often stirring lament for its struggles and causalities.”

Alan Stern, The Denver Post

 

“A home grown product of the blue ribbon quality… if anything can draw the disparate segments of an Anglo-Hispano population closer, it might be the destination of artfully composed statements like, Intro to Chicano History: 101.”

Jackie Campbell, The Rocky Mountain News

 

“Su Teatro has the opportunity and evidences the talent to develop into a major Chicano company with national influences… Viva Teatro!”

Miller Hudson, Up the Creek

 

1991

Ludlow: El Grito de las Minas

Ludlow: El Grito de las Minas was originally written in 1977 by Anthony J. García. The play relates the story of the Ludlow mineworkers’ strike and subsequent massacre, which took plae near Tridad Colorado in 1914. Unlike other treatments of the strike, García’s play is told from the perspective of the Mejicano miners. Originally performed in 1977 and 1978, the play drew attention in a revised version presented in 1991. The play was also performed at the TENAZ festival hosted by the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center in San Antonio, Texas and the TeatroFestival hosted by Pregones Puerto Rican Theater in New York City.

 

 

Serafin: Cantos y Lagrimas

1989

Anthony J. García wrote Serafin: Cantos y Lagrimas in 1985 based on his own late father’s diaries. The story is told in flashback by the main character, an aging drunk who recalls the hardships in his life and his struggle, lost long ago, to maintain dignity in the face of oppression.

 

 

 

The tragi-comedy was first performed in workshop by Su Teatro in the company’s First Annual Summer Showcase in 1985. In 1989, the play was given full production. It received a tremendous response from audiences and critics alike. Anthony J García was awarded Best New Play by the DenverDrama Critics Circle for his script of Serafin: Cantos y Lagrimas, for the 1989-90 season.