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Can’t Do Theatre by Yourself

by California Digital News


Jorge: So that’s there’s where I would get to meet all these other groups from throughout Latin America and all these folks.

Christin: That’s amazing.

Jorge: By 1983 no money was coming in. I was looking for work. I heard that in San Antonio they were starting a new organization called the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center, and they were looking for a theatre director.

Pedro Rodriguez, who just passed away recently, interviewed me. He was an amazing Chicano warrior, a former professor, and he ran the organization from ‘193 all the way to the late nineties. So he was my mentor. I started in January of 1984, the same week that Sandra Cisneros started. She ran the literature program, and I ran the theatre arts program. I remained at the Guadalupe until 2000.

There, I produced sixty productions and two TENAZ theatre festivals in 1988 and 1992. I also started Grupo Animo with a youth theatre company in 1992. I noticed that in the field, there wasn’t a lot of women playwrights or women directors. I started to hire more women writers, more women-issued plays, and women directors, and so on. So we were doing four plays a year, plus classes, plus presenting, and then Grupo Animo in the summer. That was my schedule for the last part of the nineties, and of course, we had very strong money in the nineties. It was a program called Gateways with monies from the Ford Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation.

Prior to that, as Chicano teatristas, we were taking the work to the people. Now we were asking the people to come to us.

Christin: This fund that you just mentioned, does it not exist anymore?

Jorge: No, the Gateways was just a project during that time. Eventually it faded off after I had left.

At my very first play, Los Desregados, we had ten people in the audience. And back then it was a four-hundred-seat house. And I said, “Oh lordy.” Prior to that, as Chicano teatristas, we were taking the work to the people. Now we were asking the people to come to us. So I changed gears.

Christin: What did you do?

Jorge: When Ford Foundation was knocking on our door, I said, “Well, I needed to develop an audience.” And so they took it and they started calling it audience development. Now everybody uses that term with their grants, but that’s what I started calling it back in 1984. You do not develop an audience from your desk; you have to go to where the people are at.

When I did Real Women Have Curves, and premiered it here, I’d go to the centers and to the factories and talk about the play. Some places, they would allow me to pass flyers, some would not. And I would also give free passes.

Christin: Do you think audience development—I love that the term was coined in the eighties and this is so great to learn—but how do you think the way we develop audiences has changed now?

Jorge: Audience development never ends. You have to change with technology. You have to constantly reinvent yourself. You have to constantly present yourself and realize that majority of these folks have never seen a play before. Once they see a show, once they get glued, you create the relationship; and it becomes personal.

So that’s what the Guadalupe was about. By 1988, all the plays started to get sold out. It took me four years before every show was sold out.

If you use today’s energy, creativity, and stubbornness, and anger—and understanding history—there’s where you get the formula to create your future and how to plant those seeds. 

Christin: Wow.

Jorge: And so I had some failures and successes. My focus was to give opportunities to playwrights, to directors. It was always bringing artistic integrity to the stage, meaning if you have a very weak rehearsal, you’re going to have a weak production. So you have to put a lot of strength into your rehearsals.

Christin: Yes. I agree 100 percent. I mean, as an actor, the only way I feel prepared for production is if I know rehearsals were well delegated in the way that there was enough time spent on the scenes, enough time spent on the character development, enough time spent on blocking, enough time spent

Jorge: Right. A good balance for the performer, for the technicians, for the front of house.

Christin: That too. Absolutely.

Jorge: And then when you have a hit, you have to have all these volunteers to help people sit down before the show starts and so forth.

Christin: Yeah, it’s definitely a collaborative effort. Can’t do theatre by yourself.

Jorge: No.

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