Sedona CALLAHAN, Writer
Monterey County Herald
Luis Valdez Sees Change as ‘Natural Evolution’
Luis Valdez has stepped out of the limelight of El Teatro Campesino, which he founded, but he is still in the wings, advising and teaching the newest generation to take center stage in the acting and support roles of the theater.
Valdez is chairman of the board of directors of El Teatro Campesino [The Farmworkers Theater], serves as Artistic Director and continues to conduct workshops for the up-and-coming actors who were raised in the San Juan Bautista-based theater. The actors who started out as little angels, devils and ushers now take principal roles in the theater’s productions, notably this year’s Christmas pageant, “La Pastorela” [The Shepherd’s Tale].
“This new generation is now that new,” says Valdez. “These are the veterans. They grew up in the company, and it’s a natural evolution. The generation that has grown up in the Christmas companies is totally in line with the tradition of ‘La Pastorela’ and ‘La Virgen del Tepeyac’ in that the tradition is being channeled from one generation to another.”
Valdez says he was the same age as many of the current batch of young actors when he started El Teatro 32 years ago. “We were the twenty-somethings of that era,” he says. El Teatro Campesino began in 1965 in Delano, when Valdez merged his interests in theater and the United Farm Workers union. ETC entertained the striking farm workers, supported them in their marches and attracted public attention to the Great Delano Grape Strike.
Over the years, El Teatro Campesino’s productions throughout the United States, Mexico and Europe have garnered critical acclaim and recognition, including an off-Broadway Obie Award and numerous Drama Critics Circle Awards in Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Valdez is best recognized in the Monterey/San Benito County area through his connection to El Teatro Campesino, and his appointment by President Clinton in 1996 to the National Council for the Arts. But he is also a writer, film director and playwright of international renown, having produced “Zoot Suit”, the first play created by a Chicano to be produced on Broadway, and the film “La Bamba” in 1987.
Having established a one-film-a-decade pattern for himself, this year Valdez is taking a sabbatical from his faculty position at California State University at Monterey Bay to write a feature film based on the life of Cesar Chavez, whom he met as a child and worked closely with during the ‘60s through the alliance of the United Farm Workers union, which was led by Chavez, and El Teatro Campesino.
“I see this project as my ‘60s film,” says Valdez. “’Zoot Suit’ was about the ‘40s and ‘La Bamba’ was about the ‘50s, and this is about the ‘60s. The images of the ‘60s have become clichéd and stereotyped, and I feel there were a lot of meaningful things that occurred – social activism, environmentalism and the beginning of the movements for balance and equality, both racially and sexually. Because those things were all beginning in the ‘60s, for me it was a time of tremendous exuberance and youth, and that was my focus.”
The tradition goes on.
©1997 Sedona Callahan