By Pablo Jaime Sáinz
Chicanos have a long and powerful theatre tradition.
For years, teatro has been the driving force behind many social causes. Perhaps the most popular and most influential Chicano theatre group was Luis Valdez’s Teatro Campesino, which put the struggles of farmworkers up on stage.
There are dozens of community Chicano theatre troupes in the United States. San Diego has its own version, Teatro Izcalli Sin Verguenza. The group is celebrating its 10th anniversary and will perform at Southwest High School on March 2.
La Prensa San Diego talked to Macedonio Arteaga, Teatro Izcalli’s founder and artistic director, to learn more about the troupe’s history, its mission, and the plans it has for the future. We also talked about what it means to bring teatro to our communities.
Question: Why is it important to do the type of theatre that takes teatro to the community?
Macedonio Arteaga: I feel our style of Teatro is important because it serves as a voice for the Mexican/Chicano community. Our teatro is their voice. Just last week we peformed for 300 students at Hoover High and they were so excited because they had never seen anything like this. Its like a person who has not had a drink of water for days, and here you give them a glass full of water for them to enjoy.
Q: How do you write the skits you present?
Macedonio: My wife and I started writing the skits in the beginning, and now I normally will write and the group will input more ideas and then I re-write and re-write until it feels good. Sometimes on stage an actor will add a new line or do something different and it works so we write that into the next show.
Q: Have you done plays completely in Spanish or is it all Spanglish and English?
Macedonio: We were hired by the Chicano Federation about 4 years ago to do an educational comedy about parents who have children 0-5 years old. We did that whole play in Spanish and also produced a video all in Spanish for the same project. Also the City of Chula Vista hired us to do a census piece all in Spanish. We did a video for that also in Spanish. Our regular shows are in English with the whole bilingual onda mixed in.
Q: On your web page, you mention that you follow the tradition of Chicano theatre, such as Teatro Campesino and Culture Clash. Do you relate to “mainstream” American or Mexican theatre at all?
Macedonio: We relate to mainstream America in the sense that our skits incorporate what is happening in American television and music. Imagine a Chicano version of Saturday Night Live.
Q: Many Mexicanos find theatre boring or they are afraid of going to a theatre because it sounds too intellectual. How does your theatre differ from this and how do you try to make it at a level that everyone can understand?
Macedonio: Just today I was having this conversation with someone else who was interviewing me because they noticed at our last show the range of Mexicanos that were in the audience and how they were all enjoying it. We actually write with the community in mind and sometimes we get ideas from students and people or even situations we have been in that are relevant to families.
Q: Does your work target only Latinos?
Macedonio: I strongly believe our work is universal. But yes we write with our community in mind. We had three white females from our show at Hoover who came up afterwards because they loved our show and wanted to bring it to their high school. We have universal messages but you can take some of our skits and just change the language a bit and it would work for any other ethnic group. But yeah, some messages are for the Raza only. For example we did a skit from Napolean Dynamite and the character Pedro. Pedro in our skit is running for president and he say’s that if you vote for him he will change America’s drinking fountains, so we can have a choice of Horchata or Tamarindo. He also plans on reforming the health care plan by supplying everyone with free Vapurruu or vapor rub. Of course you know in our culture, vapor rub cures over a thousand diseases according to Pedro.
Q: What are some of the projects you guys are developing?
Macedonio: We will be performing at the Lyceum in Horton Plaza on April 10th. It is a new play about Cinco de Mayo con orgullo. Believe it or not we are making fun of the whole Cinco de Mayo get drunk holiday and how major corporations have taken over this holiday. It will also be educational, about what Cinco de Mayo really is. This summer, we are also planning for our stage actos to be shot on location so we can produce a video that will hopefully be aired on KPBS. We are also going to work on our first movie as soon as we finish the first video production. But at the end of the summer, we will also have a book published with all of our actos and two of our plays. It will be called Nopal Boy and other Actos.
Q: Could you give me some background on yourself, Macedonio? How did you get into theatre? How did you start writing actos?
Macedonio: I was born in Michoacan, Mexico. I came here when I was five. Graduated from UCSD. I was in theatre in high school doing the generic western plays. One day in college I saw Culture Clash and they change my life forever. I said “I want to do what they are doing,” and from then on I started a Chicano Comedy Troupe. I just started writing and then my writing improved when I took a class with Jorge Huerta. Jorge Huerta has been a professor to some very famous Latino actors and writers and has written numerous introductions and books on Chicano theatre.
Q: What would you say to young Latinos interested in community theatre?
Macedonio: Community theatre is so rewarding because you feel the void you are filling when you hear and see the audience. It’s awesome to have such a big impact on people’s life. I told my friend the other day, “This is not an honor it is our responsibility.” If we have the power to create this, then we have to share it with as many people as possible. We need more grassroots theatre.
Q: Anything you’d like to add?
Macedonio: My last comments are that I find it sad that, in the year 2007, thousands and thousands of Chicano/as have not seen themselves on stage. That such an exciting art, like theatres, our people do not have access to. You lose part of your spirit when you cannot laugh at yourself or see yourself in the local schools or mainstream. I work for the San Diego Unified School District and there has yet to be one play produced by the school Drama department that was written by a Chicano or Mexican American that Chicano youth can relate to. That is a truly sad statement. Our people are being deprived of what I consider a basic necessity. Anyone who want ‘s to get involved or work with us can contact us. This year will be a huge year for us we will reach more people this year then ever before. We are getting our second wind and we are strong and organized and ready to make you laugh until you have healed from all your illnesses. Laughter is medicine, our people are being denied healing. People can make donations to our group.We are a non-profit.
For more information on Teatro Izcalli Sin Verguenza, visit www.myspace.com/teatroizcalli.