24th STreet Theatre's Teatro del Pueblo Presents LA VISPERA, Now thru 12/14
24th STreet Theatre's Teatro del Pueblo ("Theater of the Village") returns in 2014 with the world premiere of La Víspera ("The Eve"), another warm, funny and unique holiday play about love and sacrifice created from stories shared by members of the local immigrant community during workshops with professional theater artists. Written by Victor Vazquez, co-directed by Jesús Castaños-Chima and Sayda Trujillo, and supported by The James Irvine Foundation Exploring Engagement Fund, La Víspera gets four performances tonight, Dec. 6 through Dec. 14 at 24th STreet Theatre in downtown Los Angeles. All performances are in Spanish with English supertitles, and admission is only 24 cents. Following each performance, the audience will be invited to join the performers for a Posada (Christmas procession) around the neighborhood before heading back to the theater for homemade tamales, warm ponche (punch) and a traditional star-shaped piñata.
When a random, mysterious airplane part falls from the sky and crashes through the roof of their church just two days before Christmas, security guard Gio (Abel Flores) and local residents Alma (Magdalena Cordoba), Danny (Nicolas P. Garcia), Rocio (Veronica C. Flores) and Samuel (Ramiro Iniestra) are thrown into a tizzy. Adding insult to injury, parish priest Edgar (José Torres) has been called back to Mexico for his mother's funeral. Who will lead the service, even if that old cynic José the roofer (Tony Duran) can get the hole fixed in time? Meanwhile Johnny (Lorelle Wilkinson) and Alex (Daniel Sosa) are both in love with José's daughter, local zumba instructor and single mom Flor (Angelica Diaz), and Flor's aging neighbor Diana (Yolanda F. Baza), who babysits Flor's son, has been trying for years to bring the old man around. Also in the cast are Liliana Vasquez as Patty and Lorena Bustillo as Maria, and Charlton Briones, Christian Chahane, Calan Connolly, Dru Farnham, José "Gunga" Flores, Veronica C. Flores, Madelou Gonzalez, José Luis Pastrana, Octavio Quintanilla, Ruben Roland Ramirez Jr., Aurora Rodriguez and Ivonne Rodriguez complete the ensemble.
La Víspera started out as series of "story circles" in which local residents were invited to share their personal stories.
"I recognized a common theme right away," says playwright Vazquez, who was commissioned by 24th STreet to write a play inspired by local stories. "The pain of families separated by borders, and the joy of the new families they create in another country. I wanted to honor both those realities."
The experience resonated with Vazquez on a personal level as well.
"My parents immigrated from Mexico as kids, and when they bought a home here there was always an open invitation for family, neighbors and friends," he explains. "For some reason, people found themselves able to open up around my mother's table. They shared stories about losing homes, losing jobs, police brutality, drug addiction, being threatened by employers, getting caught up in drug trafficking, sending their kids to war - things they couldn't share outside in a predominantly English-speaking world. Our house was always full. My mother cooked daily for 14 people even though we were only a family of seven. We were like a safe house, a safe place. That's the invitation I tried to replicate in these story circles. So this play honors the circle participants, and it also celebrates my family. "
Vazquez grew up in South LA and was the first in his large family to graduate from a university. With two BA's from UC Irvine's undergraduate creative writing emphasis and drama program, he is a PEN Center USA Emerging Voices Fellow and a LAMBDA Literary Emerging LGBT Voices Fellow. He is a recipient of the Hispanic Scholarship Fund McNamara Creative Arts Grant, and currently works as a community organizer in the artistic department at the Pasadena Playhouse. Spanish is his native language. This is Victor's second playwriting commission from 24th STreet Theatre's Teatro del Pueblo Initiative.
"Teatro del Pueblo represents the true wrap-around mission of 24th STreet in terms of the work we do in our neighborhood," says executive director Jay McAdams. "These are the parents of the kids who attend our After 'Cool program. Last December, Ladybird, our first Teatro del Pueblo production, was developed using a similar process, and it was wildly successful. Twenty-five people who didn't know each other before became an ensemble. Through this sharing, they bonded and became inseparable. It proved to be a profoundly life-changing experience for them and for us."
24th STreet Theatre is a multiple award-winning professional theater company with a unique connection to its local inner-city community: the giant green doors to the theater (24th STreet occupies an historic 1928 carriage house) are literally kept open to the street every day. Neighborhood residents, homeless people, local kids, students and visiting parents from nearby USC, and others stop in daily for coffee, conversation or to print up homework on the computer. Founded in 1997 as a more traditional theater, the community needs changed the theater's focus from simply creating high caliber art to using that art to make a difference in the lives of the local neighborhood residents. With a mission to engage, educate, and provoke its diverse community and city with an eclectic array of high quality artistic programming, 24th STreet Theatre serves over 10,000 people annually: 4,000 children and youth, and 6,000 adults, the majority of whom are low-income.
La Víspera ("The Eve") will have four performances over the course of two weekends: Saturdays and Sundays at 3 p.m., Dec. 6 through Dec. 14. Admission is 24 cents. 24th STreet Theatre is located at 1117 West 24th Street, Los Angeles, CA 90007. Secure parking is available for $5 in the lot on the southwest corner of 24th and Hoover. The theater is air-conditioned and wheelchair accessible. For reservations and information, call (213) 745-6516 or go to www.24thstreet.org. Appropriate for all ages.