Rupert's Blog 6/9/09
Go West Young Man, Go West to Alpine, TX and Find Latino Theater
Many moons ago, my son was a third-grader at Maplewood Elementary School. Julio, (a pretty good actor,) had a 3rd grade teacher named Juliette Pearce. She had grown up in Alpine, TX, where her folks once owned a department store. Sometime later she lost her father and returned home to be close to her mother. In continuing her love of theater by performing at and studying at Sul Ross University, she met theater professor Greg Schwab, and as in all good stories, they fell in love and married.
Now, Juliette had also become my wife's best friend during her time in Austin, so visits to Alpine during Spring Break and at Christmas time became a regular get away for us. Juliette and Greg welcomed not only Jo Ann and I but our children as well. Anya, my youngest, attended "Camp Schwab" one summer.. We spoke of theater often, but it took nearly 20 years for these discussions to lead to a meeting with Dona Roman, now the Theater Department head at Sul Ross.
Dona Roman was looking for plays to "cross the tracks" in Alpine. Now, I am not versed in the history of Alpine, other than what I have read in plaques and bits and pieces here in there while visiting, but just like any other Texas town, it was somewhat segregated between Latinos (Mexican-Americans) and Anglos. Times have changed there, but the railroad still forms a "mental" dividing line, much like I-35 does here in Austin. Dona is dedicated to erasing that line, and she intends to do it with theater. So she chose my Petra Plays for the outdoor summer Theater of the Big Bend . Her vision has made Alpine a little town with some big ideas.
This summer, with the third production in the Petra Play cycle, Petra's Sueño, she will host a workshop that lays the foundation for a Latino playwright festival in Alpine every summer. Already on board for this workshop/conference are Dr. Jorge Huerta, Liz Castillo—a local playwright who specializes in autobiographical theater—and myself. Teatro Vivo will serve on a panel, conduct a workshop on collaborative writing and participate in a reading of three new scripts. The workshop will begin with the July 19 performance of Sueño at the Kokernot Theater in Alpine and culminate on July 23 with staged readings at the newly remodeled Granada Theater in downtown Alpine. Yes, there is a downtown Alpine.
You know, Alpine is way out in West Texas. It is a six-hour drive from Austin, a one-hour flight from Midland/Odessa Airport (and a 1 ½ hour drive after arriving), but it is worth it. I used to live in Santa Barbara, Califas and would make the drive back to Austin twice a year during our month long vacations. No, we weren't well off: Teatro de la Esperanza had to sort of lay us off because they couldn't afford to pay everyone for 12 months. So everyone took off June and December after our Fall and Spring tours. The route to Austin is on I-10, through Fort Stockton. I hated the drive. Nothing but desert between Tucson, AZ and Junction, TX it seemed. But not anymore.
People go to far off places to meditate and stare at nature to become enlightened.
The drive from Austin to Alpine has become that for me now. Jo Ann and I talk for hours, uninterrupted. The landscape after observing it becomes beautiful in that while it may all seem the same, repeated observations brings out the subtle shapes and forms that you find in the desert and suddenly the variety is striking and well, beautiful. You see all sorts of animals and vegetation. If it has been a wet spring, it is green with wild flowers; a dry spring only means that the hardy ones come to life filling the desert with different colors.
I am looking forward to something new in the desert and in Alpine. Liz and Dona and our great friends, Juliette and Greg Schwab are supporting great beginnings for Latino theater in Alpine that will have an impact all over the country. This is my hope. This is my prayer.