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Perspectives from Two Teatros Doing the Work

by California Digital News

Al: Just recently, we produced the play Real Women Have Curves, and one of the actresses in the play had been in our Las Posadas Christmas production some twenty-three years ago when she was about seven years old. Now she’s a thirty-something-year-old actress with us again. It’s exciting to see that growth.

Milta: Yes, it is. We have a similar experience in our work at Borderlands. Sometimes actors begin their careers with us and then go off and do other things and come back.

It sounds like you’re a resource for other organizations that may not have a connection to the Latine community like you do. I’m curious, because you said that you became an artist as you ran this theatre, can you walk me through what a typical day looks like for you now, and how it looked back then?

Al: What happened was that after four or five years, the other two founders, dear friends, eventually left.

Milta: They got better gigs.

Al: Well, life happens. When we started the theatre company, we didn’t have resources—no funding, no donations. We did everything by the seat of our pants. It was exciting, but then life got in the way, and the other two founders moved on. At that point, I felt overwhelmed. I was by myself. That pushed me to do more. I got some part-time help. We got some AmeriCorps volunteers. I started writing grants. It was a lot of work. But eventually, the theatre became my full-time job. It has been like that for over twenty years.

Now, I’m more at ease. I’m doing more creative artwork. At this stage of my life, I try to leave the management to others and focus more on art, writing, and directing, which makes me happy.

Milta: So how do you fill your position?

Al: Yeah, it would be great to leave a vital institution for this community, the state, and the region when I retire. The main thing that I’m trying to focus on now is creating work that will subsidize the theatre for the future, creating avenues for artists to get involved in a more democratic way. When we started, it was the artistic director and everybody else. I’m trying to diversify that, to figure out a way that is more democratic. I am still learning about these things.

Milta: At Borderlands, we’ve been talking a lot about a circle model as opposed to that hierarchical model. We’ve employed more ensemble-based leadership. The more people have buy-in into what they’re doing, the more responsible they are for things, the more they want to do more.

Al: The first time I heard about your organization was in Boston at the 2013 Latinx Theatre Commons National Convening. You should tell me a little bit more about the work you do as an artist. I’m very interested.

It’s essential to feed the organization and to be committed to serving the community, but the community is best served by empowering yourself as an artist.

Milta: Marc Pinate, my partner, and I came into Borderlands Theater as the founder, Barclay Goldsmith, was looking to retire. We wanted to write a docudrama about the banning of Mexican American studies in the Tucson Unified School District. We pitched that to him, and he said, “I’ve been looking for people to take over, and you seem to fit. Would you be interested?” Marc was interested in that. After he was vetted by the board, he shadowed Barclay for a year. We introduced ourselves to the Tucson community the following season with Más, the play that brought us here, which is based on oral histories from the community that fought to save Mexican American Studies in the Tucson Unified School District. They stood up for their humanity, their hope, their ability to thrive—that’s what the classes meant to them. The play was special.

We sold out the run. There were so many young people in the audience, so many college students, which was something that Borderlands didn’t always see. What we added to Borderlands Theater was the hyper-local focus that is of national importance. That play rooted us as the community’s theatre. It paved the way for us to celebrate the history and culture that is here.

We do these Barrio Stories projects that are based on oral histories from each barrio’s experience, the neighborhood’s experience. We share back: this is your history, your heritage, your Mexican American barrio. We started with Tucson’s first Mexican American barrio in the downtown area that is now the Tucson Convention Center (TCC). It was outdoors on the TCC grounds. As a result, we got all kinds of people that normally wouldn’t see theatre to experience the promenade theatrical event. Now on our fourth iteration, people recognize the Barrio Stories brand and say, “Barrio Stories! We have to see that!”

I’m interested in knowing what a season looks like for you.

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