by MARC CABRERA
Nov. 23, 2009
The traditions of El Teatro Campesino are kept alive through
community, through art and, most importantly, through the doctrines
of the farmworkers' theater itself.
So with this winter's production of their seminal "La Pastorela," the
gatekeepers of Chicano Teatro, based in tiny San Juan Bautista, have
their sights set on solidifying their legacy as traditional art, even
as transition abounds.
"La Pastorela" premiers Nov. 27 at the historic Mission San Juan
Bautista. It runs through Dec. 20.
The play follows the story of a humble group of shepherds as they
encounter the Angel of the Lord, portrayed by Jillian Mitchell, who
announces the birth of the Redeemer in Bethlehem.
Embarking on their spiritual journey in search of the Holy Child, the
shepherds find themselves beset by the demonic followers of Luzbel,
portrayed by Eduardo Robledo, and Satanas, portrayed by Christy
Sandoval, who waylay them with obstacles born of their own human frailties.
Twenty-six-year-old Adrian Torres, a Teatro veteran of 10 years,
takes the reigns as director from Kinan Valdez, son of Teatro founder
Luis Valdez. Kinan Valdez has served as director of the company's
annual holiday shows for the better part of the past 15 years.
Valdez maintains a role as a producer, but the switch marks a
symbolic torch passing, as Torres is signed up to direct next year's
production of "La Virgen de Tepeyac." The company switches between
the two shows every year.
This month marks 44 years of existence for the El Teatro Campesino,
which formed as a guerilla theater troupe in solidarity with Cesar
Chavez and the Chicano civil rights movement at the height of the
United Farm Workers strikes during the 1960s.
Kinan Valdez is aiming to steer the company's course with a circuit
of ambitious projects over the next few years, en route to the
teatro's 50th anniversary in 2015.
As such, he is saddled with the task of shaping both the company and
the very genre his father Luis founded four-plus decades ago.
"I read somewhere the definition of traditional art," said Valdez.
"They said a traditional art is something that is not based on
individual achievement, but a collective wisdom that's amassed and
and passed on from generation to generation. "
He continued: "It dawned on me not so long ago that the way we
practice Chicano theater at El Teatro Campesino is starting to head
into this realm of traditional art."
That's important, he said, as a means of protecting the shape and
future of an art form he was born into.
It's particularly relevant with regard to "La Pastorela," which,
along with "La Virgen ..." has become the company's hallmark
production. "La Pastorela" premiered as a puppet show in 1975, and
has been performed bi-annually at the mission since 1981.
For Valdez, the play represents the Christmas spirit.
"There would be no Christmas spirit or holiday spirit for me without
these shows," he said. "The spirit and unity we create with the
community in the process of making this show is what the spirit of
Christmas is supposed to be about."
Being involved in the production for most of his life, Valdez has
seen the evolution of that tradition, through the young cast members
who grew up and returned years later.
That includes this year's cast veterans like Robledo, who is
celebrating his 40th anniversary of joining the company. He first
performed with the company as a teen in 1969.
The younger veteran Torres joined the holiday cast in 2001 playing
the devious Luzbel. Having performed on the show previously gave
Valdez confidence in Torres' directing abilities.
"He is reared in this tradition. He understands it organically," said
Valdez. "He's not a visiting director who says 'This is going to be a
Western theater approach to making this show happen.' It's that
organic transition that is essential to maintain these traditions."
Valdez is maintaining control of those traditions, but his eye is on
creating some new ones for the company as well.
He announced a recent endowment to Teatro from the James Irvine
Foundation to develop what he termed an "outdoor sacral theater
pageant," similar in scope to the teatro's holiday productions, for the summer.
The events would be staged on a parcel of land the company owns just
outside of San Juan Bautista. The first project is an adaptation of
Mayan mythology taken from the Popol Vuh, the Mayan book of creation.
"The idea has always been to create a type of work that mirrors what
happens during the holiday season, but for the summertime," said
Valdez. "The idea of creating these huge community pageants is
something that has been at least in conversation for a long time. So
we finally, thanks to the James Irvine Foundation, are taking those
Other projects include a staging of resident artist Ruben C.
Gonzalez's latest work, "La Esquinita, USA" in the spring, and
prepping the premier of brother Lakin Valdez's project, "Victor in
Shadow," which is scheduled to debut next year in Berkeley before
coming to the teatro in 2011.
And in the ultimate show of respect, Kinan's father and Teatro
artistic director Luis Valdez is gearing up to premier his signature
play, "Zoot Suit," in Mexico City. A Spanish adaptation is being
planned for the spring, marking the first time it will be staged in Mexico.
"It's the first time a Chicano playwright has ever been welcomed by
Mexico," said Kinan Valdez with pride for his father's work. "So
that's an achievement and an honor."
Marc Cabrera can be reached at 646-4345
If you go
--What: El Teatro Campesino presents "La Pastorela."
--When: Performances run Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m.
and Sundays at 4 and 7:30 p.m. from Nov. 27-Dec. 20.
--Where: Historic Mission San Juan Bautista, located at 406 Second
St. in San Juan Bautista.
--Information: Call 623-2444