Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Part II: Interview with Kinan Valdez of El Teatro Campesino

Part II of my interview with Kinan Valdez. Here, he gives some interesting details on the Teatro's upcoming projects, and closes with some pretty cool developments with his father's signature play, “Zoot Suit.” La Pastorela opens Thursday at Mission San Juan Bautista in San Juan Bautista. You can get more information at www.elteatrocampesino.com.

On the Teatro moving forward:
One of the major projects, and it is connected to these traditions, is that we've been funded by the James Irvine Foundation to develop an adaptation of the Popol Vuh. We're going to be adapting the sacred book of the K'iche' Maya into a type of outdoor sacral theater pageant that we're going to be staging during the summertime.
The idea has always been to create a type of work that mirrors what happens during the holiday season, but for the summertime. The idea of creating these huge community pageants is something that has been at least in conversation for a long time. So we're finally, thanks to the James Irvine Foundation, taking those first steps.
So next summer we'll be gearing up a workshop production of this event, and then the following year, in 2011, we'll be doing a world premier, and it will be staged up on a 50 acre parcel of land we have outside of San Juan Bautista.
We're talking two or three years effort in the making, but that's the type of effort it's going to take. That's the big project, to find a couple of pieces to anchor the San Juan performances. (More after the jump)

On the story of the Popol Vuh:
The Popol Vuh is a creation story. It's akin to the Mayan Bible. The main throughline is the story of two magic twins who are Mayan ballplayers, and the generations before them have gone up against the dark lords of the underwoarld and have died.
So these magic twins are born and are summoned into the underworld and they defeat the lord of darkness before rising and becoming the sun and the moon.
It's a creation myth and a story. I grew up listening to these stories. My father would tell us bed time tales, not of the Western canon, but from ancient America. The Teatro attempted to work on a piece in similar scope in the '70s that veered off in a different traditon. This time we're going to take the actual source.
Many people have attempted to play with this particular story. There's a famous cartoon film that the Teatro participated in the making of back in the '80s. I know Cherrie Moraga has done a puppet show version. It's one of those pieces that does exist.
Our intention is to return to sacral indigenous theater and create it on a huge canvas. I should mention when it comes to the whole project of creating tradition, it could be considered one of the classic Chicano theater forms, which is a Mito. Those experiments began in the '70s, and haven't been returned to too much. I tried to incorporate a Mito in Sam Burguesa and The Pixie Chicks. That was the first attempt. It's a new piece, but it's a traditional form.

On past attempts at producing Mitos:
We've done experiments with the Mito form. Part of what we also established in the past year was an ongoing collaboration with migrant education (students) to develop enrichment programs with migrant students.
The other thing that's tied into this is we're trying to gear up this thing called The Salinas Valley teaching tour, a small tour of all the cities of the Salinas Valley, the ones that often get neglected. Everyone focuses on Monterey, and proably sections of Salinas. But they don't focus on east Salinas, Chualar, Soledad, Greenfield, all the way down to King City.
Working with migrant ed was an eye opener for us. We said to ourselves, ‘There is this entire region that we need to be reaching out to. Particularly when the model of the teatro is that when people don't go to the theater, then the theater must go to the people.
The program we're trying to build is a two-day session. One day we would come in and do a free performance in the parks for the communities of those cities, and on the next day, we would offer free theater workshops, and it would be a two-day engagement.
We're hoping to get that kicked off in some fashion. If we don't get that funding for the whole thing, then we'll actually organize at least a pilot program in two cities. That is an imporant project, particulalry if we're going to be Teatro Campesino, then we have to go into these regions that are rural and where they're always neglected.

On what the upcoming 45th anniversary means:
Most of us here have our eyes on the 50th (anniversary). As I mentioned, it's about maintaining this tradition. For me, it's helping to facilitate the building of a structure here that will carry the Teatro well into the next 20-25 years. I think the work of the Teatro is important, but also, I think, I mentioned the tradition of Chicano theater, It's geared towards social change. That itself needs to be protected.
We could find ourselves subsumed in a more traditional western theater model, where Chicano theater will be nothing but content. The agrument here is that Chicano theater isn't just Chicano characters, but is actually a form and apporach to creating theater.
I know for some people that may not be so exciting because there are all these new things to be created, and I recognize that and that's absolutely important and viable and it needs to be done. In fact we have our Teatro Lab, which will be maintained over the next few years for new work. But the larger part will be maintaing this tradition.

On the Teatro Lab, which is the Teatro's wing for developing new works:
We're in the middle of developing “La Esquinita USA,” which is a one man show being developed by Ruben C. Gonzalez. That will have its world premier under the auspices of the Teatro Lab next year in spring.
Next year, we are also developing under the auspices of La Pena (Cultural Arts Center in Berkeley), my brother Lakin's show, “Victor in Shadow,” which will have its world premier at La Pena before coming here in 2011. That's a new piece about the life and death of Victor Jara, a famous Chilean musician, poet and writer who was captured in Pinochet's military coup in 1973.
The Teatro Lab is still something that we're all gearing towards. We're going to do at least one Teatro Lab performance and reading every year.

On the current work of his father, Teatro Campesino founder Luis Valdez:
With my father, he is going to be directing “Zoot Suit” in Mexico City. It's the first time a Chicano playwright has ever been welcomed by Mexico.
He's going to be working with La Compania Nacional, so he's already engaged in pre-production of that process. The national company of Mexico is going to be producing Zoot Suit in Spanish in the spring of next year. So that's an achievement and an honor, the first time that a Chicano artist is being recieved in that way.

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