The Family Theatre Announces 'Growing Up Gonzales' and 'Times Square Pinero'

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The artistic children of Marvin Felix "Pancho" Camillo (d.1988), founder of The Family theatre, are making a resurgence right now. Three Family "cousins" -- Felix Rojas, Antone Pagan and Camillo's son, Marvin Felix Camillo, Jr. -- are hard at work rekindling the Family Theatre's legacy.

The Family was formed to portray the vast culture of the inner city people, to tell their stories by playwrights and perform them with the best of actors. Formed in 1972 and fully underway by 1973/74, The Family had its first hit with "Short Eyes" by Miguel Pinero, which Camillo directed at the Riverside Church, The Public Theater and Lincoln Center. It won top awards and brought the little company and its artists to acclaim. "Short Eyes" was raw, "prison theater" that the mainstream had not seen before. It changed how "poets from the streets" would be accepted in New York. The company's plays diversified beyond "prison theater" to such genres as classics and musicals, but they never lost their edge.

Marvin Camillo died in an auto accident in France in January, 1988, while establishing a French offshoot of the company. At his memorial service at The Public Theater, Colleen Dewhurst, who helped organize The Family, called Camillo 'one of the greatest life forces." Joseph Papp called him 'a saint' and poet Miguel Algarin cried 'Pancho viva!'

Felix Rojas, author/director of the upcoming "Growing Up Gonzales" (Off-Broadway at Jan Hus Playhouse, January 26 to February 25) met Camillo as a student at Syracuse. University Camillo took him under his wing and The Family produced Rojas' plays "Hotel Presidential" and "From the Mind of Cheo." Rojas also worked in the troupe as a long-time stage manager.

Rojas' upcoming play, "Growing Up Gonzales" (www.growingupgonzales.com) is a bittersweet comedy of two brothers growing up in the Puerto Rican section of the Bronx, whose coming of age is marked by the untimely death of their father. One actor (Andres Chulisi Rodriguez) plays both parts. Rojas cites his debt to Camillo as a mentor, writing, "The Family was where I first began to really engage in theater without boundaries. I knew I loved being around the work; I just didn't know what I wanted to do. Marvin Felix Camillo allowed me to do everything, which helped me realize that above all else I wanted to be a writer. Once I decided to write, he gave me a platform to present my work. He taught me to always trust my instincts."

The Family is currently being revived as The Family Rep. Theater Company Inc. by Camillo's son, Marvin Felix Camillo Jr. (called "Panchito"), who has asked Rojas to direct a Caribbean adaptation of "The Proposal" by Chekhov. This play, adapted by Marvin Felix Camillo, was The Family's most successful Off-Broadway show after "Short Eyes." It is the story of two wealthy, rival families in the Caribbean brought together by the marriage of their children. The production will be late in 2012.

The Company will actually be reviving three of its classic pieces starting in November. Beside "The Marriage Proposal," there will be "Throwdown," a musical about great boxers, and "The Crucifixion." Felix Rojas was tapped to be a part of the unit of directors that will revive these classics, which have not been performed in over 20 years.

"Panchito," had turned away from his father's legacy, but it found its way back to his heart after he started acting, directing and producing in recent years. He is aiming to have the company fully restarted by its 40th anniversary in November, 2012. He has been guided by playwright Juan Shamsul Alam, another noted playwright of the original Family. The new company produced a cabaret show at INTAR December 3 and is planning another one for February 11 (venue TBA), tentatively titled "Blaque Ties and Love Knots." It is to be directed by Verna Hampton, who was the elder Camillo's steady assistant director.

Antone Pagan, who has been the most prolific interpreter of Pinero's works since the 1990s, is directing a staged reading, "Times Square Pinero" as part of the first Times Square International Theater Festival on January 20 and 21, 2012. This cabaret-ish piece (set to Conga/ Percussion and music track cues) is intended to bring new awareness and audiences to the work of iconic Playwright/Poet Miguel Pinero. It features poetry and a theater segment from"Short Eyes" and an excerpt from Pinero's play, "A Midnight Moon at the Greasy Spoon," which was inspired by a Times Square diner that he hung out in during the 1970s. Performers include original Family Theater members George "O.G." MacLean and Rick Reid (cast member of the original company of "Short Eyes").

Pagan writes that he is privileged, with these veterans, to continue the spirit of theater inspired decades ago by mentor Marvin "Pancho" Camillo and La Familia, which nurtured Pinero's talents and developed his works, especially "Short Eyes." He writes, "It is a true blessing to work with Pinero's material and the guiding support of his Pinero Family Estate to ensure that the Pinero legacy is revitalized and respected with the honor it deserves." Pinero's sister, Carmen Pinero, will attend "Times Square Pinero" on January 21. For tickets and further info, visit: www.tsitf.com.

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