By KATHRYN PETRUCCELLI
Article Last Updated: 05/01/2008
Playwrights play with words. The words, steeped in multiple
connotations, offer themselves willingly.
The Spanish term "acto" can mean action or movement, or an act in a play.
These definitions rolled together equal the "acto" a one-act play
done with high energy and exaggerated movements aimed at inspiring
the audience to social action.
Opening tonight (Thursday), El Teatro Campesino in San Juan Bautista
strings together five one-acts by brothers Lu s and Kinan Valdez for
their spring opener simply titled "ACTOS."
Stephanie Woehrmann, artistic associate and musical director for
"ACTOS," said they are out to "show audiences the evolution of the
'ACTOS,' why it started in the '60s and how we can use it today."
The grandfather of the group is a piece called "Tres Uvas" ("Three
Grapes") about the importance of unions for farmworkers.
The one and only production of "Tres Uvas" until now was on the steps
of the Capitol in Sacramento after a United Farm Workers march.
"What's really exciting as far as we're concerned is we're taking
this piece that's never been seen and doing it here in San Juan
Bautista," Woehrmann said.
Valdez did not commit the script to paper until 2006, when he
reworked it for an all-female cast.
The heroine is Dolores Huelga ("huelga" means strike), after the real
Dolores Huerta, who worked alongside César Ch vez to win justice for
"When El Teatro Campesino began in 1965, frankly, it was a company of
men," noted Woehrmann.
Valdez always envisioned the piece performed by women, but in the
interest of using who you have, the parts were given to men.
Now with a significant female presence, "Uvas" is back. "It is coming
full circle. The way it was intended."
It's been a natural evolution in the demographics of the El Teatro
family. In the 1960s, farmworkers performed most of the work put on.
In the '70s, college students came along and, again in the '80s, the
group was mostly young people, including Valdez' three sons.
These days, El Teatro balances actors who are mainly in their 20s
with a board of directors a generation or so ahead of them.
As for the audiences, they are still diverse. The actos "Basta
Basura," written by Kinan Valdez, was a piece commissioned by the
Monterey Bay Aquarium in 2006.
In it, Rosamaria is nearly seduced by Beto Basura a trash monster
from the ocean to throw her empty bottle to the waves.
Written to appeal to children, it's performed regularly by aquarium
actors. (Another El Teatro piece will debut at the aquarium this summer.)
"Guerilla Radio" will show this month at La Peña Cultural Center in
Berkeley as part of a hip-hop theater festival.
The other actos are "Quinta Temporada" ("The Fifth Season") featuring
Don Coyote, a loathsome go-between for grower and worker, and "Dos
Caras" ("Two-Faced") in which a grower trying to break the spirit of
workers by wielding his material prosperity gets to see how it feels.
The older huelga songs will be used between the actos, and the music
during the plays are original compositions by Woehrmann, Kinan Valdez
and Chas Croslin.
When Woehrmann started with El Teatro in 2004, she came with a
background in entertainment theater.
El Teatro represented a different route, one with potentially enough
potholes in the road to encourage people to "get off their
backsides," she says.
But telling tales of injustice doesn't extinguish entertainment. "I
really love to hear the audience laugh; I really do," she said. "And
especially if it's a serious issue, to kind of flip it.
"It makes you think, whether you agree, don't disagree, but it
"We plant a seed," said Woehrmann, choosing an appropriate metaphor
for the farmworker. "You can harvest it or not."
Kathryn Petruccelli can be reached at email@example.com.
THEATER OPENING ·What: Lu s and Kinan Valdez' "ACTOS" ·Where: El
Teatro Campesino, 705 Fourth St., San Juan Bautista ·When: Friday,
May 2ÐSunday, June 1. 8 p.m. Fridays, May 2 and May 30, Thursday, May
29, and Saturdays May 3, 10, 17 and 31. 2 p.m. Sundays, May 11, May
18 and June 1 ·Tickets: $12 general admission, $10 students and
seniors. Opening night all seats free. Saturday, May 3 and Thursday,
May 29 all seats $5. Available by calling 623-2444 or on line at
elteatrocampesino, www.elteatro campesino.com