Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Should we be talking?

Well, I got back to Austin and hit the ground running as I had to learn my part in ¡No Se Paga! and move the show into the Salvage Vanguard Theater at 2803 Manor Road in one week. ¡No Se Paga, We Won't Pay!, opened Thursday, August 13 and will continue the run through August 30. The show is at 8PM every night except on Sunday, when it is at 3PM.

We are happy to partner with four groups who provide food for those in need. They are Manos de Cristo, Casa Marianella, El Buen Samaritano, and The Capital Area Food Bank of Texas. You get a few dollars off the ticket price for a donation of non-perishable food. (You know, something in a can or box.) The play, a comedy about people being hungry, is very funny, but in real life hunger is not. So come have a laugh and do some good for those less fortunate in our community. So much for advertising.

But speaking of advertising. There is something that has begun to happen with such regularity that is has become something that we don't talk about but maybe we should. Jo Ann Carreon- Reyes (you know who she is but just in case, Teatro Vivo, Business Director and my lovely wife), Marisa Limon (company member of Teatro Vivo and Aztlan Folkdance) and Karinna Perez (company member of Teatro Vivo and Latino Comedy Project) need to take credit for this. They have nurtured a relationship with our three groups that lead to cross advertising for one another. We carry ads for their shows in our programs, on our emails and our websites. They do they same. We encourage our audiences to see each other's shows.

What? Three Latino groups working in such good cooperation? Well, there is about to be a fourth, Roy Lozano's Ballet Folklorico de Texas has been invited to also put notices in our programs for their events. Which will include a collaboration with Teatro Vivo in the fall of 2010.

We have begun conversations to coordinate calendars a little more to avoid what occurs every now an then, two shows running concurrently. It would be very difficult to make all our shows happen on totally different weeks, but we can at least open a week or two apart and give each other's shows a boost in our programs, emails and websites.

To me this points us in a direction that is not new and every now and then comes around at the right moment. And now might just be that moment. With the city already announcing that cuts will be coming for arts funding (which to me always translates into "the groups that are trying to reach those underserved audiences will be cut"), we need a "strength in numbers" approach. The idea is to form a group of Latino arts groups and individual artists. Yes, yes, it has been done before, but one element that is present now that perhaps wasn't there in the past is "maturity" and knowledge that we are not fighting over the same enchilada anymore. Our audiences have expanded greatly and they are diverse. We have discovered our own art forms and they are all unique.

It is no coincidence that the Opera, the Ballet, Symphony and Zachary Scott are courting the influential Latinos to be on their boards. And it is no coincidence that those Latinos are accepting. Our small groups cannot compete with the social status that those groups guarantee. I mean let's face it. If Teatro Vivo has a good run, in three weeks we may bring in 1500 people for one of our shows. The Opera on one night can bring in 2400 at the new Dell Theater. So when will Teatro Vivo be able to compete with that? Maybe someday.

But with a coalition of Latino groups and individuals, we can begin to compete with them immediately. Roen Salina's Aztlan performance at the Dell was wonderful and played to, in my estimation, 500 people. When we were at the Rollins Theatre also at the Long Center, we sold out the house for 6 performances (almost 1000 people in one week). They begin to add up don't they? So for right now, let's keep sharing our publicity and maybe we can share a beer or coffee and just begin to plant some seeds. After all gardening is one of my favorite things to do.

And now this:

Roy Lozano's Ballet Folklorico de Texas at Zilker Park Saturday August 29 @ 8 pm Free performance!

The LCP presents "El Channel", an all-new, hilarious sketch comedy show. Two Weekends Only! Fridays & Saturdays August 21-29 @ 8PM & 10:15pm

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Wild Things in the Hood

Sitting in the Sul Ross University main library, staring out the window at the surrounding mountains (dominated by the one named Twin Peaks) I decided to take a break from writing "Petra's Regalo" and reminisce on my past week here.
First, as I look out, I wish someone would do something about the f*#$%ing McDonald's sign. It sticks way up and messes up any picture you want to take of the surrounding mountains and Alpine. (Sound of clearing throat)
Second, the energy, passion and enthusiasm that greeted Jojanie Segura and myself has not subsided. That's good! No, great! I am also excited that tonight will be our second day on the set at the outdoor Kokernot Theater, with costumes no less.
I have also started making a list of animals that I have encountered and I feel like a field biologist right now. Here is the list:
1. One roadrunner with a small mouse in its beak
2. Four-foot shiny brown snake
3. One very large javelina that darted in front of my car around 10:30 pm about two blocks from my home and 3 blocks from downtown Alpine
4. One very dead javelina on the way to Odessa
5. Two large mule ear deer running through a yard during Jo Ann's and my morning walk (again about 2 blocks from our Alpine residence)
6. A skunk that I only smelled in my back yard but he was very, very close
7. A mockingbird that has a 6:00 AM alarm clock that goes off every day, on time, and he knows a million different songs
8. Hummingbirds galore
9. A fox I missed the other day at the theater that appeared on stage right as I waited on stage left
10. And last but not least, a small creature, black with four white paws that ran across the road last night around 1:00 AM. It looked like a small dog, but with a short neck, no tail, and very short legs. Luckily Jojanie was with me so that I know I wasn't seeing things. I have been here just one week. I expect to see a chupacabra and el cucui next week. Maybe that little fluffy animal I saw last night was a baby one.
Okay back to theater stuff, the reason you are reading this anyway. I am going to hold back talking about my theater experience in Alpine until it is complete on Aug. 2. For those of you who don't know what I'm talking about, Theater of the Big Bend is producing my play, "Petra's Sueño" from July 17 - August 2. I am performing the role of Chano and Jojanie is playing Petra.
What I want to talk to you about today is the responsibility of theater artists to create more theater artists. Is there one? I think there is. I mean, who is going to make more of us? The public schools? Well, some of them might. But are these students Latino students? Usually not. Public schools with strong theater programs usually do not have large minority enrollment unless they are in the Valley or El Paso. And I do know of a strong theater program in the Valley.
How about the universities and colleges? Does anyone know of a college theater program that specializes in creating Latino writer, actors, designers, and producers? One could argue that creating Theater Artists first is more important. But why not give them a focus? Sul Ross actually is moving in that direction. They are producing two bilingual shows annually right now. They are making that kind of commitment. But this is just one. So my point would be that the ones who are doing theater now bear some responsibility to create more of us.
I want to propose that we take time to talk to those young people (and not so young people) about the importance of theater in our society, in our culture. Tell them about shows that are coming up. Invite them to the theater and then help them get there. When they get there make an extra effort to get them to meet the actors either before or after the show. Give them a tour of the stage, showing them the guts of the "sausage". Which I think, unlike sausage, will let them enjoy even more what they are experiencing if they see how it is made.
Who is telling our stories? Television? Movies? Who is doing critical self-examination of who we are, where we came from and where we are going? Who is looking at us as we grow as a population and the impact we are having in America? Our customs, our language, our food are spreading everywhere, but is the spread of our culture making us, Latinos, better off? We still have the highest teen pregnancy rates. We still have the highest dropout rates. And we probably still enlist in the military at high rates in proportion to our numbers trying to earn a living.
Theater is flexible and can quickly look at issues that are helping define who we are to both ourselves and those look and watching us. This does not mean that we sugar coat our theater. Theater is best when it does look critically, with a strong point of view at an issue. It is up to the audience to digest this. We are and should be teachers. Coming to the theater is like giving a person a fish. Taking a small step by involving them when they get there is like teaching them to fish.
All these animals above lived in this region long before there was an Alpine I would imagine that after people arrived here they thinned them out a bit. Now they are returning. And I as I said earlier, some, like the fox are starting to take in the local theater. Then there are the stars. I remember as a child taking a blanket out into the yard and lying down to look at the stars. Yes, just a mere 10 miles from Austin, you could see the Milky Way all the way across the sky. Guess what? In Alpine you still can.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Chicano Theater Alive in Alpine TX

Chicano Theater Alive in Alpine TX

When I arrived in Alpine, Texas this past Sunday, one of the first things that my host said to me was, "I got t-shirts for you." This would be the third one that I have received from Dona Roman, director of The Theater of the Big Bend. Additionally, this will be the third year that they have produced one of my plays. But this t-shirt was different. It was black with a skull in grey, almost invisible, with the words Chicano Theater in big white letter on the front. It was a phrase that I had not seen nor heard in a while. The skull struck me as apropos: Chicano Theater is a phrase whose meaning had been nearly dead to me for a while.
When I first heard the phrase Chicano theater, it was tied to a movement that included many different people and disciplines. I honestly would have a hard time trying to give you a history of the word and the movement, but for me, being a theater artist, it was easy to define it back then. Chicano theater was street theater, Guerilla Theater, Farm Worker Theater, political theater, theater for social change. It was done by people who were more interested in changing society than changing costumes or being good actors, writers, or theater artists. And that was fine for a while. Then two things happened to me that changed the way that I defined "Chicano theater".
One was the realization that our audiences were the same show after show. When we performed in LA, the SF and SD audiences would be there. When we performed in SD, the LA and SF audiences would be there, etc. etc. There was positive side to this: great parties. But the negative side was that we were beginning to stagnate. We were not growing our audiences so our message was becoming redundant. We wanted the message to reach larger audiences. So most of us stopped doing theater and became politicians, teachers, or lawyers or we worked to make the message stronger.
It took us some time to realize that what we really needed was to strengthen the messengers. The message has not changed that much or not at all. There still exists racism, job and educational discrimination, sexism, worker exploitation, poverty, and on and on. The Supreme Court ruled recently that white firefighters had been discriminated against by their city in promotional practices. I thought I had it bad, but when white people are being discriminated against, then no one is safe. Oh, wait, we have never been safe from discrimination (I know a lot of my people who think these are things of the past.)
Back to the message. We soon realized that strong writing, excellent acting, and creative directing only strengthened the message. That it was okay to write about things that weren't 100% political. This really didn't mean we stopped being Chicano theater; it meant that we began to grow beyond our identity as a group of committed people who just wanted to use a play as a vehicle for their cause. And who didn't mind if that vehicle was ever maintained or even ran again.
Second, we realized that the word Chicano was beginning to limit our thinking. It seemed to isolate us in a world where our Mexican heritage was separated from our Puerto Rican, Cuban, Central, South American, African, and European brothers and sisters. There was a shared language, culture that begged to be included in our thinking. It occurred to me personally that I had always been told that I was a minority in America. Then with a change of thinking, I suddenly belonged to the majority. I let Chicano go.
So here I was staring at a t-shirt. Wondering why they hadn't put my play's name on it. (Am I revealing too much about myself?) What I didn't know was that in a moment I was about to undergo another change.
The first cast activity for the production in Alpine was a potluck lunch to introduce Jojanie Segura and me to the rest of the group. This was to happen within an hour of getting my t-shirt. This group had already begun rehearsals and we were to join them for the last two weeks before our opening. The energy in the room was amazing. Here were seven amazing actors. Excited to be meeting us, excited to be getting ready for the last weeks of rehearsals, excited to be bring what they called "Chicano theater" to their community. A theater that they related to, a theater that spoke to their parents. It seems that the groundwork that has been laid for the past two years is now paying off. This group of actors is solid. They are talented and dedicated to their craft. So something old can be new again. Chicano theater has been reborn here. I too have joined in this energy and can't wait for opening night. They are at the same point I was years ago.
An added note, Dr. Jorge Huerta was one of the if not the biggest influence on me in regard to "Chicano Theater". He is going to be here next week to meet with the actors in "Petra's Sueño". I had thought that my style of theater would die with me, but suddenly it looks like it just might be given a fresh start.

Rupert Reyes

Monday, June 29, 2009

All It Took Was Cinderella - Reason #2 Why I do theater

I used to dream that I was in the audience of some sort of performance, a play. The light was dim and the edges of the picture were fuzzy like I was looking through a dirty window that had been wiped clean to allow me to look in, only the image in the center was clear. The dream was in color. A red figure danced on a raised stage. Rudimentary lights illuminated him as he danced a clumsy dance with his pitchfork. It was silent. No music, no dialogue, not even the crowd noise. Silent.

Several years ago I was directing the revival of the local "Pastorela" and I had invited my dad and my mom to attend. It was then that he told me.
"You know that your grandfather used to play a devil in the "Pastorela" that they would do in Elgin, Texas. But he couldn't read. So your Grandmother would read his lines to him and he would memorize them that way."
Then I realized that my dream had not been a dream at all but a memory. Both my mom and my dad had roots in Elgin. My family attended many functions in Elgin when I was growing up, all of them having to do with the local Catholic Church. We would go to the "jamaicas" or church festivals. And during the holy days, Masses were held in Elgin since they had the bigger church. (I remember the midnight Masses at Christmas even though I was usually asleep within minutes.) So theater was more in my blood than I realized. Perhaps I am merely continuing the Reyes tradition.
But this is not the moment that I can pinpoint that made me want to do theater. That moment came when I was in elementary school. I will share with you what I remember.
We boarded buses in Manor one morning for a field trip to Austin. I don't even remember being told what it was but it didn't matter. We could be taking a friend to a dairy to watch cows being milked and I would have been excited. We were taken to the Municipal Auditorium, later named the Palmer Auditorium, and now the newly remodeled Long Center on Lady Bird Lake. We were ushered in and then the curtains opened.
It was beautiful. There was the most amazing thing that I had ever seen. The set for the children's play, Cinderella stood before me, but again, the only details that I can remember, and the one that has made the most impact was the grand staircase.
Now let me digress a little but quickly. We were one of the first groups in the Rollins Theater at the new Long Center when it opened. The Austin Lyric Opera was performing "Cinderella". If you haven't been to the Long Center, they have monitors all over, showing what is going on in each of the theaters. As I walked past one, I froze. There was the staircase, on the same stage, and it was almost identical to the one I remembered as a child. It sent chills down my spine. Okay, back to my story.
When the clock begins to strike midnight, Cinderella made her dash down the stairs. The prince followed and stood in down stage center. Where oh where had she gone? Then, from stage left, a glass slipper comes sliding in. The house shook from all the laughter. And the actor played it perfectly. Yes it was corny but it worked for all the kids in the audience. It is here that my mind took a snapshot. This image, taken almost 50 years ago, still remains sharp and fresh. That laughter is what I try to create, the images people see when they come to a Teatro Vivo show, I hope is imprinted forever in the minds of my audiences. And I hope that the laughter that I heard one day, coming from a child in our audience, will create just as much theater as I have tried to since Cinderella lost her shoe when I was a child.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Spirit and the Soul in Theater 6.23.09

For years I have enjoyed boggling minds and baiting my friends with the question: "What is the difference between the soul and the spirit?" I have yet to get an answer that is really satisfying until recently. I did reach a little peace (but really will never know when I get the answer, if there is one) when I distilled it to this: the spirit is to the soul as the flesh is the body.

Here we could begin a lifelong discussion about souls, spirits, life, death, etc. But we won't. Instead we'll move on to talk about theater, which is probably why you're reading this anyway. I tend to connect discussions of spirit, soul, and theater because the theater is my temple, the stage the altar. It is here that I "nourish" my spirit to strengthen my soul. And it is here that I commune with God.

Obviously I am not an atheist. I am not a churchgoer either. Yet when I walk into a theater, I do so with the same reverence that you would enter any place of worship. I wish they would place some water at the entrance to cleanse one's feet prior to entering. Of course all they usually do is place a wastebasket for the empty coke cans, chip wrappers or programs to be deposited after the show. And that's important, that's important.

I like being the first to enter the theater when we are preparing for a show. I enjoy walking into the empty space that is just a venue at first, but will soon be transformed into a living room, a park, a desert, and any place you can imagine. What a wonderful space that is. I usually lie on my back, close my eyes and do a yoga corpse pose to listen to the sounds this wonderful space makes. How many different shows have been here, how many different audiences have laughed, cried, cheered or remained silent (at the wrong time) in this space.

I believe that some of that energy, that spirit remains in these spaces. Not as ghosts, but as a sum of the hard work, the love, the passion, the paint on the floor, and the gouges from the dropped props that were brought into the space by many, many actors, designers and crews. These are the marks, the "sum" of what has been created here. Some great works, some not so great works, (but is the passion, the love, and the hard work any less? I think not.) So lying on the floor puts me, in my own way, in contact with the past, as I prepare for the future.

Then the designers arrive with their crews. The lights are moved and positioned, the scenery unloaded, assembled and painted, the props and costumes, and the sound cues are played for the first time, adjusting their levels. The place has come to life. The spirits are present.

Later, the actors add their presence and their souls to the mixture. Voices trying to establish themselves in the space that at one time belonged to other voices. All of the above being done in preparation for one last piece of the ritual; the audience.

I love audiences. They are different every night. No matter how many they may be, they become one as the curtain lifts. Their energy, that is clearly felt on the stage either powers the actors or sucks them dry. But in this whole space, for the time that the performance is happening, there is a unity between all these elements that is to me spiritual, a gift of God. Lifting all the souls in this space, creating that community, and this is when I realize that we are one and the same. That if we can continue that recognition after the curtain closes, after that trashcan is full of empty cans, candy wrappers and crumpled programs we would all be much better for each other. This is one of the reasons I do theater. This is one of the reasons I love it so much.