20 Year Retrospective
Quoted from Su Teatro: 20 Year Anthology
by Tony Garcia
Su Teatro: 20 Year Anthology is perhaps more of an overview of my participation in the company than a historical compilation. Perhaps, because of our geographical location and because our impact on social and cultural activity has been gradual and not as dramatic as a group such as El Teatro Campesino, there has never been an independent chronicler of Su Teatro. It is therefore left to future El Centro Su Teatro archivists to someday present that perspective.
When Su Teatro was formed in January of 1971, El Teatro Campesino was already on the cutting edge of the theatrical world. In fact, it was after seeing a performance by El Teatro that Rowena Rivera and a handful of others decided to form a class at the University of Colorado at Denver, entitled, “Intro to Chicano Theatre.” Some, but not all of the original members were, Tep Falcon, Arturo Valdez, Yvonne Sanchez, Rocky Hernandez, Chris Montoya, Dalia Longoria, Carmelita Muniz, Diana DeHerrera and Alicia Lucero.
I joined Su Teatro in June of 1972. I was 19, a student at UCD and an active member of the United Mexican American Students. Mateo Torres, Carlos Santillanez and I were boyhood friends, who although lacking formal training had all performed at one time or another. Of the three, I was the least talented: Carlos was an accomplished singer and guitarist, and Mateo was an award winning playwright. I sang, played guitar and acted; none of these I did well. Arturo Valdez, in my opinion, was the creative leadership when I joined. Tep and Diana, however, were the political and spiritual strength of the group. Alfredo Sandoval became a member of the company at about the same time as Mateo, Carlos and myself. He soon developed into the strongest actor in the company.
Within two years, the company had changed tremendously. In the fall of 1973, I had left the teatro because I was going to school at the University of Colorado in Boulder. Even though it was only 20 miles away, it was a world apart. I returned in the spring of 1974, to find the new teatro members preparing to attend the 5th Annual TENAZ (Teatros Nacionales de Aztlan) Festival. It was called El Primer Encuentro Latinoamericano and it was to take place in Mexico City in the summer of 1974.
In the spring of 1973, I had written a couple of small actos for the company: one was called Reyes and Raul. It was about two young Chicanos, one male and one female, caught up in a futuristic foxhole of the impending Chicano Revolution. The other was an agit-prop piece written after the death of Luis Jr. Martinez, a young Chicano affiliated with the Crusade for Justice, who was killed in a shoot-out with the Denver Police Department. I do not remember the name of the “acto” but the intent was to draw attention to the violence of the police. I remember being furious about the piss poor performance of the teatro, and vowing never to write for the teatro again, unless I could direct the piece as well. Su Teatro, however, was neither ready nor willing to accept direction from its youngest and least talented member.
When I rejoined Su Teatro after returning from Boulder in the spring of 1974, I began working closely with Alfredo Sandoval who was now directing the company. He was working on an original piece to be performed with the Denver Symphony Orchestra. The DSO would perform Manuel DeFalla’s The Three Cornered Hat and the teatro would perform in front of the symphony. Needless to say, the marriage was a very unhappy union; however, it gave me my first opportunity for hands on directing. Prior to that time I had to direct through Alfredo. Although Alfredo was officially the director, who had done a tremendous job in recruiting members and maintaining the teatro, more and more I was being given opportunities to direct: all with Alfredo’s encouragement and support.
Before it begins to appear as though everyone was just mean to me, I have to admit that I was not the most pleasant person. For every progressive idea I offered, I was always able to counter with a strong dose of immaturity. None of these worked to solidify my leadership.
It took years to convince some people that I was serious about my work. My actions made it difficult for me to win respect for my work and for Su Teatro. Although in retrospect the talents and efforts of the core group were tremendous, I really believe that the contribution of each individual member of Su Teatro has been to the larger body of work that marks Su Teatro as a significant agent in the Chicano Teatro Movement.