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.

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