On April 26, the Senate Labor Committee in Sacramento will vote on SB 805, The Performing Arts Relief Act, which will help create and preserve opportunities for emerging artists, performers and people in the performing arts sector serving marginalized communities throughout the state of California.
This important piece of legislation, if passed, will help undercapitalized small theaters to survive. That is why I am joining with a coalition of 39 other non-organizations, like mine, throughout our state to support the passage of SB 805 to make theater accessible to all.
Fifty-six years ago our theater, El Teatro Campesino, was born on the picket lines of the Great Delano Grape Strike, led by César Chávez and Dolores Huerta. Originally formed of striking farm workers, our company has survived over the last six decades by working from the rural fringes of our society, serving the underserved by giving voice to the voiceless.
Before 1965 there was no Chicano theatre, and precious little Latino theatre, from the fields of California to the Great White Way in New York. Since 1971, from our home base in the historic Mission town of San Juan Bautista, El Teatro Campesino has served as the crucible of new American theatre works and artists, despite its bare existence in one of the most financially impoverished but historically rich counties in the state.
Working out of our converted packing shed playhouse, we have nonetheless nurtured actors, playwrights, designers and stage technicians who would have otherwise never had this foundational opportunity to develop their skills as teachers and artists in the professional theatre.
Included among these artists are the late Diane Rodriguez, a beloved core company member in the 70s who went on to become an Associate Artistic Director of the Center Theatre Group in Los Angeles; also Edward James Olmos and Daniel Valdez, stars of my play and film “Zoot Suit,” the first Chicano play to make it to Broadway.
Octavio Solis and Josefina López, renowned playwrights, saw their first works produced on our stage; Cultural Clash — Richard Montoya, Rick Salinas and Herbert Siguenza — initiated their group career in our playhouse. And a long list of other Latino and Asian actors have graced our boards over the years.
The fact is that for over half a century El Teatro Campesino has played a foundational role in the evolution of the America theatre by working out of a 99-seat house in one of the poorest rural areas in the country. It is for this crucial reason that I appeal to the senators sitting on the Senate Labor Committee, and their sense of justice and fair play, to vote “yes” on SB 805.
The effort to curtail and stifle the spirit of creation at the very grass roots of the American theatre can only impoverish independent working artists and our multicultural society as a whole.
Luis Valdez is the founding Artistic Director of El Teatro Campesino located in San Juan Bautista, CA, and the writer/director of “Zoot Suit” and “La Bamba.”