Empowering With Theatre: Going Way Beyond Productions

Because good theatre is reflective of our humanity, when we go see a show, we often experience calcified perspectives cracking and shifting toward enlightened ones — and we find ourselves having significant conversations after seeing plays! Some theatre-makers are brave enough and trained to extend theatre magic into genuine healing and empowerment — for theatre-makers and theatre-goers. 

 

Austin is fortunate to have multiple groups doing this kind of purposeful, community-centric theatre work. Companies range in the circumstances against which they push — from addiction, abuse, harassment, and homelessness to being othered for immigration status, poverty, race, language, or sexual identity. They work with deep compassion and provide community that goes beyond “play-making” into long-term relationships of caring and support. Watch this space to get to know a new group every year! Up first for 2022: ProyectTEATRO!

 

 

ATX Theatre’s Sharron Anderson (S) interviewed Luis Ordaz Gutiérrez (L), ProyectoTEATRO’s Executive and Artistic Director, in 2021. This interview will be published in four parts — because you’ll want to savor it.

 

The scene: a nearly empty restaurant on a warm day with windows open, fans swirling, and plants everywhere. Iced coffees drain quickly. The heaps of delicious food take a while to get through because this conversation keeps pulling us away from them.

 

The character: Luis Ordaz Gutiérrez moves through space to grab a napkin with effortless grace. He is willowy and wears select flowing pieces over fitted ones — ’could be heading to a dance class after this? I think back to every time I've seen him, and he always wears something that draws the eye — something sheer or net, something unusual on his head or, you know, a toga and a smokey eye. Because why not? He’s an artful master of his excellent bone-structure-defining facial hair. And the hair on his head is usually some combo of close shave and a fun color. He has the most piercing eyes yours will ever meet — with much going on behind them. He does not waste words or thoughts or movements; his intentionality is magnetic. Luis springs easily between his plentiful laugh and animated expressions to eminent calm. He truly listens. One realizes how rare that is in the world when Luis does it. An extraordinary presence, his deep connection to the struggles his community faces every single day sits beneath a shimmering joy he shares freely.

 

S: Luis, ProyectoTEATRO is not just a theatre company. How do you characterize the many things you do?

 

L: ProyectoTEATRO is an ongoing social project that promotes and preserves Latin American culture through transformative arts education and original devised productions. All our work is in Spanish, and all of it is accessible because it’s completely free for the participants — and for audiences when it needs to be. 

 

We ground each original production authentically in the life experiences and curiosity of our company members, and weave their voracious research and interdisciplinary expression into every new performance we build together — there are universal truths, but as discovered oh-so currently and specifically by these Latin American children and teens, these immigrant adults right here in Austin. 

 

S: The “immigrant experience,” after all, is not one but many individual ones. 

L: Absolutely, put that in bold. And at the same time, there is much that we immigrants share and all relate to. Such as feeling unseen in white Austin. We want to open that conversation up for public review, which we do with our very theatrical form, of course, and by adding English supertitles. People are eventually going to have to face that we are at least 32% of the population or more than 40%, depending on which of many sources you believe — and those numbers pretend to have all immigrants accounted for. But back to commonalities we share.

 

Some of our notions want unpacking, such as: Just about all immigrant families try to protect their children from rough truths. And, inevitably, children of immigrants long to understand and address those truths, so they seek out answers in their own ways — from whoever happens to be in their lives outside the home. Depending on who that whoever is, that can lead to damaging cycles repeating — when they could have been stopped with purposeful and open conversation. I believe we have to respect children enough to bring them into a guided conversation about real-life issues, rather than ‘protecting’ them from the ideas of trauma — thereby keeping them ignorant straight into the moment when they become recipients of that very trauma. By being brave enough to talk (and let them talk) about what they don't know, we’re granted the opportunity to equip them with tools for life. I'd so much rather have difficult conversations now instead of waiting until it’s too late.

S: Oh-oh-yes, I'm bolding that! And italicizing. Having that wisdom to create space and to allow our own vulnerability to surface for such discussions is challenging enough to navigate with one kid, right? How do you manage that across various age groups — while building shows?

L: It’s easy! [magnificent laughter] No, actually, it’s as complicated and messy as life itself — times the number of people involved. But over time, we become an extended family. And, though our kids train separately from our adults, we engage everyone across age groups when they need input from each other — and when our adult company crews the youth shows, and our youth company crews the adult shows.

 

We don’t shield young people from any subject matter. The creative process is largely led by the questions company members have, and then gently guided as needed. For both young and older, our structure is strong enough to keep explorations on a healthy and creative track, working together towards a culmination; but it’s loose enough that the good fire of curiosity is fueled by peers, and we are pulled into deep and complex questions which demand answers. We aren’t cranking out another Spanish language version of Snow White here! We confront tough issues that society is not solving in a satisfactory way, digging down into those together, and forming living art from what we find. 

Because our model is so different, and shifts depending on who is in the room and what they bring, the typical metrics for ‘success’ feel pretty inapplicable. It can be tough to describe for potential supporters. How can we place a data-driven value on the journey of a child who’s always struggled with reading in school, been diagnosed with various disorders, and seems to be flunking out — But in Proyecto, that same child gets curious about a real-life question we’re exploring and proves to be the most research-able of them all! He finds and reads and shares with excitement these nuggets of insight that end up being cornerstones of a new play — which he helps to write! That child’s empowerment is undeniable — and yet tough to quantify. It can't be seen on a standardized test. He wasn’t chained to some desk to study something a room full of white people decided he should learn and regurgitate. He rose to meet this challenge because he cared about the answers — he wanted to rise!

 

We try to describe it with buzz words — experiential or self-led learning? But it goes beyond that, right? It's serving a creative purpose with fellows while doing all that, so it’s kind of mystical with a dash of theatre magic! But one can’t write mystical/magical on a grant application, can one. There is a strong argument to be made that without the stress of the “success measures” that children are exposed to in institutionalized learning, they find ways to learn. We don’t apply pressure, we give space and ask questions, and the young people become research-driven and learn with ease — sometimes, there’s a new monologue the night before opening and they can do it that fast. And do it well!

S: Where is he now? That boy with the nuggets? ...

 

End of Part I. Tune in tomorrow for Part II.

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Part II

L: Nugget made it through high school, his reading became no problem in spite of the doomy-gloomy diagnosis that no longer defines him, and his test scores rose high enough to get him into college. He’s majoring in theatre; he'll probably end up a director. So there’s a metric of success right there! We successfully prepared him for a life of poverty! [laughter] No, seriously, scripts provide a great hook for literacy comprehension! Plus, being bilingual sometimes presents as reading hesitancy, and the specialists who hand out child labels often don’t consider that. Our Nugget no longer hesitates — he can read, and is a thoughtful doer. If we helped him find his voice or avoid getting stuck because of something a grown up said that hurt him, we have lived out our hopes. I can sleep well knowing I work to ease the path of people who some view as problems.

S: I’m not crying!

L: Here, have a napkin.

S: With all this totally open and honest work, do you ever find yourself in too deep — that a conversation is NOT okay or not safe? 

L: Thankfully, I have lots of de-escalation training — and I do use it. But to me, ideas are not unsafe, so I have no fear of talking about them. We have to examine ideas carefully in order to live well-considered, thoughtful lives. Taking action without that examination is we get into trouble, isn't it. It’s ironic because theatre is based in action, and we train in action, but the thoughts and beliefs that fuel the action must be articulated and understood for an idea to be embodied truthfully. It's like getting to the root of a health issue, right? Treating symptoms is backward. 

S: My favorite directing teacher at UT, Tom Whitaker, taught us that staging an idea is the hardest thing to do — so it was our final exam. Can you give an example of how you do it? How does your process begin? You literally ask them what they want to learn?

L: It’s less point-blank than that — we are moving, dancing, doing voice work, practicing all kinds of technical things and talking about our lives as we spend time together. Things come up and we notice threads in our conversations. Eventually, one thread that everyone is drawn to emerges. I'm a big history/research buff, so I lead in that direction by default and they gobble it up because it was their question! They each want 8 books every library visit, and they devour them and turn them into idea boards we all share. Eventually, we build the research into story or action or play... Yes, it’s devised theatre, but it’s such an educational process — so it’s educational theatre, but not in the typical sense —  educational theatre is often so risk-averse and we’re the opposite! It’s experiential, devised, educational theatre — of ideas?! I have to think about what your professor said... Do we stage ideas? I think we do, but I never thought about it like that. Come to our next show and tell me if you think so. 

 

S: Would not miss it.

 

L: Academia is so funny — it defines the skill with terminology, and leaves you to figure out how to fulfill the terminology. My own learning experience and what we do at ProyectoTEATRO is the opposite, it's problem-based. We try to come up with new understanding and even terminology to address the problem differently than it is being currently. See what I mean?

 

S: Yes, I do. What kinds of problems come up in your conversationsl threads and turn into your subjects of study and then performance? Would you give me an example?

 

L: Well, one group of students told me they wanted to learn about drugs. I was a little wide-eyed for a sec, but then said, ‘Oooh. Gosh... OKAY! LET'S DO IT!’ So we went to libraries and read all about various drugs together and talked to a pharmacist and a nurse, and now those kids know all that. They have a thorough understanding of how pharmacies operate; they know about big drug companies and approval processes and drug trials; and they know about corner drug lords lacing with rat poison; they know how to help prevent or reverse an overdose; they can recognize the signs of various forms of drug use; and they know the risks of using themselves. We made a show about all that and opened up important and heartbreaking conversations about addiction within our community. Because we dove in. Ya gotta dive in!'

S: And the parents are always good with this?

L: They understand and become good with it over the process if they don’t begin quite there. The adult company did a show called Eros that was about sexuality and how trauma can effect it. Lots of eyebrows raised around that one, but once people stuck it out and got through what the company presented, and we all talked about it... We didn't lose a single family by veering into that topic. But we all gained new perspectives, saw how life-long views can stay stuck, and kept caring for each other — even when the conversations were less than comfortable.

 

Our families see we have pure intent in the relationships we build over time with them. Since our subject matter emerges from our lives, nothing is off-limits. And since our work together extends beyond training and rehearsing into our lives, nothing is off-limits in terms of — what normal community-focused organizations would call ‘wraparound services.’ That industry-speak makes me laugh. I guess it’s the right term if it means unquantifiable and limitless commitment? [Laughter.]

S: Wraparound services? Do you have social workers on staff?

L: No one with a degree in social work, if that's what you mean, but we become like family and we all try to do our own social work for each other. Our families sometimes need help getting basic services — or just a ride. These families don’t have gas money. Whatever is needed, it’s not even really a discussion, we just do what we can to meet the need. I’ve bought several quinceñera dresses so girls in our program wouldn’t miss out on that tradition. We all drove to Huntsville one time instead of rehearsing because a company member’s uncle on death row was being executed, and the whole group insisted on providing moral support to the anguished family. It’s certainly not typical arts org stuff, but it’s what we do. When the pandemic came, we rallied the sewing machines we use for costumes to sew masks, and gave them away to anyone who needed them. 

 

For us, drawing a line between art and life is not particularly useful. Each serves the other as needed in the moment for learning and growth to occur. When someone dips in to see one of our shows, they could never imagine all that’s going on during the rest of our year!

S: Who are your audiences? And who do you want them to be? 

L: We perform for the Latino community primarily. It’s so important for people to see themselves on stage to affirm life. And we are speaking to their experiences, their culture. We make sure that is available as widely as we can afford and then some.

White audiences and even some Latino ones — and the City of Austin itself — are sometimes shocked at the raw, emotional impact of seeing ProyectoTEATRO productions, where children can take on subjects that society deems too much for them. The audience can’t see the months of intense research and discussion, the fight choreography rehearsals, our company’s skilled, safe, and self-aware approach. The material and our response to it are processed as we build the show, so the company can pick up the subject matter and turn it over and look at it from all angles in a safe space and with time. But the audience does not have the benefit of that time, so it can be a bit jarring if you’re not familiar with our form.

 

But we get the point across! We make it impossible to avoid the depth and breadth of what life as an immigrant in Austin is. Of course, we’d love a wider audience to see our shows. We’d love to be less limited in terms of space and run times and budget. Our students are eager for glossy posters and postcards to invite people and promote! They’d love to run a show for a month or tour! 

S: You said a second ago audiences are shocked. What has been your most controversial show to date?

 

End of Part II. Tune in tomorrow for Part III.

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Part III

L: Hahaha, there are so many controversies to choose from! But I’d say for sure Por Los Mujados (For The Wetbacks — click for video), which was created and performed by our advanced junior (teen) ensemble. These young people used art to organize their response to seeing hundreds of children in cages day after day on TV, and to the racist, dehumanizing language spewing out of the White House in 2014–15. They were a fabulous group of 12 selected from over 60 candidates within our outreach programs because of their advanced level of artistic capacity, their discipline, drive, talent, and true passion for the work. Many of them had been training with us for 7 years! So they were ready. This was a brave process and they were able to conduct it without internalizing the hate that was coming directly towards them . (You can see some of the preparations and rehearsals for that show here.) 

In preparation for Por Los Mujados, we went to the border as a company to volunteer in the shelters, we talked with the children there as much as we were allowed to, we met with lawyers and consulates to ask questions, we researched for 6 months and prepared like journalists to build the piece.

 

It was incredible to watch how children can process rhetoric with a love of questions: Why are minor immigrants being criminalized? And discoveries come from unexpected sources: A student was eating a Chiquita banana, so we talked about how that little sticker is from a U.S. company, but the banana is from impoverished Nicaragua, and the U.S. invaded Nicaragua in the 1940s. A banana led us to investigate the relationship between U.S. history (and present, for that matter) and why some countries are so devastatingly poor. And how does that relate to why children cross borders with drugs? WHY do they do that? They looked at facts objectively to figure out what they thought. We played Incas and colonizers instead of cowboys and Indians, and through play, they fully understood what happened to the gold and the silver, and what’s happening now. And they built that understanding into their performance of Por Los Mujados.

Honestly, none of us knew the fullness of what we had until opening night. These young people leaned fully into the characters and the moments they had created, and they flew! The second they finished performing it, whooo, I was grateful for de-escalation training then, because the catharsis of it was overwhelming. All that work — using technical skill to pull another body, the full breadth and stark experiences involved in the research, the palpable need to hear the heart our community voiced — emotions just poured. Covered in mud, the company could not stop crying, nor could the audience, at the show’s end.

We had elders coming to terms with their own immigration stories because of the play their offspring made for them. Stories the parents had never ever shared came out in the talk-backs. We witnessed one man sharing that he lost his brother literally crossing the Rio Grande. Seeing the connections in that family in that moment will stay with me forever.

 

Parents and grandparents sharing living history with children weakens the generational divide and strengthens family trust. That divide unchecked erodes our culture as Latinos. Many are afraid for embarrassing stories to be revealed, as if the past is a weakness. But if the stories are stuck inside us, they crush us to weakness and to breaking! Some parents don’t speak Spanish to their kids on purpose so they won’t learn it — because they don’t want to sound like who they are and where they came from. Being open about our history and owning our heritage and taking pride in our language binds us together culturally.

 

Por Los Mujados was nothing short of a social and intellectual awakening for this incredible group of performers and those who witnessed what they made. People throw around the phrase ‘the power of art,’ and I have felt the goosebumps that inspire that phrase many times, but never more fully than on opening night of that show.

 

[More napkins are required to mop up tears. Laughter at ourselves for bawling in a restaurant.]

S: Luis! That show needs to be done again now! More and more unaccompanied minors crossing and getting stuck in the cruel system and all the suffering and trauma... 

L: There was to be an extended life for that show. But, oh, so many unbelievable things happened! First, our teens were crushed when the City of Austin shut down the production because of the titlewhich the kids had chosen to encapsulate intrinsic racism. In true ProyectoTEATRO form, a long line of awesome brown moms showed up to protest at City Hall, telling City employees, ‘This event is representing our community, you cannot sensor us. Our children came up with this title, you cannot sensor them!’ Luckily, the moms won and the show resumed. But a lot of people got bent out of shape — even some LatinX people I had known for years were in an uproar, locked in fear that the title made Latinos look bad! Which is, of course, totally missing the point. We learned that going forward, we had to find ways to ensure we could be authentic to our community without needing permission from individuals who cling to the status quo. 

We had big plans to tour that highly acclaimed show (which won multiple awards — even though it was created by and performed by teenagers) in 2016, but the tour had to be canceled because a company member’s parents were detained. So instead, the whole company helped that family work through who should become legal guardian and where this newly parentless teenager should live.

S: As you said, the line between art and life really does not exist — a scene from the play just happened in real life — which prevented the play...

L: And that right there is one shining example of a cultural disparity. Our mantra is to reduce cultural disparities. That’s the reason we have to keep everything free of charge, so those who want to and need to be doing this work are able to.

 

S: How do you keep it free? You gotta eat! (Maybe we should eat. We’ve barely had a bite since we started talking.)

L: [between bites] Oh, we raise as much as we can, and make up for shortfalls with sheer force of creative will and a sense of humor. We have sidelines, too though. I was teaching theatre for a while at a fancy private school... but I couldn't stay there. It felt wrong. 

S: Why?

L: Well, now we’re getting into some dicey history...

S: Dicey history? Do tell! 

End of Part III. Tune in tomorrow for Part IV

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Part IV

L: It all started with my mother, Guicha Gutiérrez, who, in addition to Mom, also goes by the titles Company Co-Founder, Cultural Advisor, and Head of Costume at ProyectoTEATRO.

 

Mom grew up performing in Mexico and became a trained dancer there. But to go back even further, her stage experiences started because her mother, my wild Grandma Catalina, was an activist and theatre person who risked her life freeing innocent men from prison! Once she had rescued them to a distant, safe field, Catalina would set cinder blocks in a half circle for the prisoners to sit on, and put on a show for them right there in the field — featuring her daughter, Guicha, and several friends from Catalina’s theatre days. My grandma told my mother that the purpose of the shows was to help restore the humanity and caring the men had been drained of in prison. It was a transition gift from trauma and loneliness back to possibility and community. My mother developed her natural dancing talent in those field shows. She eventually went on to train at Bellas Artes in Mexico City — with Amalia Hernandez of Ballet Folklorico fame.

 

My mother was an incredible dancer, and is a stupendously creative and open-minded person. If not for us children, she would have had a great career, I believe. [He speaks rapidly now.] Whereas her famous classmate appropriated Mexican culture by squashing meaningful three-day festivals into three-minute swirls of lipstick and fancy dresses — to cash in on sprucing up and canning culture to feed shallow curiosity, abandoning its significance.   In my opinion.  

 

[We laugh. He shakes his mane of blonde hair out of its top knot and regains his stillness, shaping his pencil-thin goatee with his slender fingers.]

 

My mother believes deeply that it’s important to bother to make things beautiful. While that notion unquestionably informs my worldview (for which I am grateful — and she does remail my close collaborator), my social justice Grandma Catalina is also strong within me. We CANNOT shy away from the ugliness that snaps at our heels, the ups and the way-far-downs of real life. That’s the challenge, isn't it, turning that into something beautiful — even in imperfect circumstances, doing our damnedest in a field or wherever to connect people and shine light on what needs to be seen. We’ve got to find beauty in authenticity.

S: So this crazy/wonderful/unique thing you do is totally in your blood.

L: Nature and nurture though! I know what fellow immigrants need because I was one. I spent a lot of time alone as a child because my single mother worked multiple jobs to keep her 3 children fed. Our little family had immigrated to Austin from Mexico when I was a toddler to seek medical care for my eldest brother, who deals with cerebral palsy. In her positivity, Guicha imagined our move to abundant Texas would bring her the professional dancing work she longed to do — and a life of prosperity and joy. Instead, she found herself cleaning office buildings and private schools as side jobs to her full-time work in a restaurant. We younger boys had to help with the cleaning jobs after school to maximize earnings. I scrubbed student desks while my burlier middle brother, Hector, ran the big vacuum and our mom cleaned the bathrooms. 

Years later, teaching at that fancy private school, I was taken right back to desk scrubbing — except someone else had to do it there — while I got to waltz in, having scrabbled my way out of desk scrubbing era, teach theatre in Spanish to wealthy international students, and then drive away. It tore at me that people exactly like me were still struggling so, killing themselves working multiple jobs and making next to nothing. I have to be with people like me and somehow do what my mom did for me.

S: Your mom taught you about theatre?

My magnificent mother taught me about everything and has stood with me through a lot. If you’re reading this, Mama, I love you and I thank you. But you know that.

 

As the only Mexican kid at Davis Elementary in the early 90s — and surely the only little one working as a janitor after school — I retracted to draw as little attention as possible. I became a quiet visual artist. Seeing my spirit dim, my mother encouraged me to create theatricals at home, as her mother had done with her. Those are my happiest childhood memories.

The struggles of immigrant children are so different from their white counterparts. In addition to all the unknowns and desperate poverty, people don’t even see us. This is real to me because I lived it, so I have to create opportunities for immigrant children and artists and the diaspora community. It’s non-negotiable because I was so lucky! My amazing-crazy-art-mom taught me how to dance in our little living room, would sew amazing costumes for me, and let me use her make-up. Her open mind gave me opportunities to grow my creative expression in spite of how difficult our existence was.

 

In 2003, when I was 12 and bussed to Murchison Middle School on the west side of town, my mother started ProyectoTEATRO with Alex Pedemonte, a Peruvian director. I had taken over the sets and costumes for the company by age 14. I was deeply involved in the company throughout my years at Anderson High School. When time came for college, I attended ________ (missed name) in Mexico City to reconnect with my roots. 

As fate would have it, Pedemonte stepped down just as I was getting settled in college. The ProyectoTEATRO board requested that I come back home to take over. I was thrown into directing a major production for the company at the Paramount Theatre — at age 18. I had no idea what I was doing, but just went with my instincts and passion (and probably a little pixie dust from Grandma Catalina), and we figured it out! I’ve been Artistic Director since 2008.


Since then, we’ve grown our staff to 6 — my brother is our Audiovisual Director, and we have Abraham Martinez on tech, Yarisel Estrada as PA, Reno Bostick in Admin, and Lizet Lara Aceves as Education Director. So we’ve been able to extend the programming for children, teens and adults, offering the plays, of course, and an arts academy, master classes and dozens of cultural events — all presented in Spanish. 

S: Wait, your burly brother does AV?

L: Right, burly vacuum bro does AV. [Laugh.] He is brilliant.

S: A true family business.

L: Well, a true family non-profit. We’d likely be better off in many ways if we operated an actual business instead! [Laugh.] Seriously, the work glues us together. Family dynamics can... get interesting! But we are so grateful because, since we lived the same journey growing up here, there are no blanks to fill in. We start each project together — and finish each other’s sentences only maybe a little tiny bit too frequently. [Laugh.] 

S: I bet! Doesn’t your company headquarter at the MACC (Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center)?

We are not headquartered there, though we do perform there. Because of the way we work, we’ve been in different places. But, we are thrilled that ProyectoTEATRO now makes its home in the beautiful Southwest Key Family Center (El Centro). Southwest Key offers immigration services and is headquartered here. The U.S. Government detains unaccompanied minors at the border for 36-ish hours, and then they are transferred to shelters, including Southwest Key’s. We’ve partnered with them for eight years, but just in 2021 {or was it 2020, Luis?? I didn't write that down}, they opened this facility in a renovated school building for the Del Valle community. We’ve been encouraged to take a leadership role in El Centro, which let us grow from one office to 8 rooms and gave us the chance to vision a highly functional space. This cornerstone partnership provides a secure, physical home for the company, and allows for collaborations with SUREM Ballet Folklórico (not the lipstick Ballet Folklórico!) and SanaYoga, so we can offer classes and workshops in sewing, theatre, dance, visual arts, yoga, and Zumba, and much more. 

S: How have you managed during the pandemic?

L: We moved into and helped build the new space during the pandemic, keeping what programming we could going while following CDC guidelines. We met outdoors a lot. The needs of the community grew exponentially, of course, with significant loss because immigrants have to keep showing up to be exposed to the virus at low-paying jobs rather than sheltering at home. And then others lost the ability to earn their living, especially housekeepers, because their clients were suddenly home all the time and didn't want anyone coming in. It continues to be a bleak time for many, but we maintain my mother’s eternal optimism that we will be able to produce our work publicly again soon.

S: How can people get involved with ProyectoTEATRO? 

 

L: Spanish speakers interested in participating with ProyectoTEATRO can send a message to info@proyectoteatro.comThe “audition” process is different from a conventional one since we take into account the human energy and the creative chemistry that is required to develop original works on stage. But we invite all artists interested in collaborating with the company to coordinate a visit to the studio (as soon as we climb back out of Stage 4/5 again). They will be invited to participate in a training class, rehearsal, or creative session to explore their artistic interests, abilities, gifts, and dreams. 

S: What is the best way for our readers — the theatre community and audiences — to support your important work?

L: We can’t wait to greet audiences again, but in the mean time, we hope they know our work continues, and their financial support is massively appreciated. 

 

S: Tax-deductible (501(c)(3) contributions to ProyectoTEATRO can be made here!

 

L: I know I said we work on sheer creative will, but we do have plenty of costs! For example, very child in ProyectTEATRO has custom-made costumes (which they are taught to help sew), high-quality stage make-up, eyelashes, and anything else needed to create a given play. The materials and experiences for the children far exceed anything in school theatre programs or even what they would get at a pricey youth production elsewhere, which these families couldn’t dream of affording. We insist that they have the best. We have to! We honor the stories we present by bringing a seriousness and an expectation of quality to every aspect of the process. How can a child feel like their voice work and physical choices are important if they are handed an ill-fitting costume to wear?

 

Plus, my mother would simply never allow that! [Laughter.] Sometimes we worry that we might be over-spoiling them, especially with the costumes. A former student texted me horrified when the costume she was assigned for her first college show was too large! Then, of course, she made us proud by fixing it herself. My mom wants to give all these young people the best because she wished she could have done it at that level for her own kids.

S: I cannot wait to meet your mother, Luis. Oh, you talked about how audiences can help, but how can your theatre community support you?

L: I’m excited to see the unity among theatre people growing through ATX Theatre. I feel like because we are finally meeting and talking more as artists in the meetings, we have a place to ask for mutual support. And for weird props! I value that, and I plan to be an active member of this organization — though I’ll warn you I’m slow to respond on email, Sharron. We always have a lot going on off screens!

 

S: I hear you. Speaking of what’s going on... What’s coming to a stage next from ProyectoTEATRO if the pandemic ever ends? Can we get a sneak preview?

 

L: Oh, we are still recovering from the show we just did! We used that glorious window between surges in the Fall to produce for the first time in two years! It was like going from laying down to sprinting. But it was a beautiful Fandango of the Dead event at a cemetery on Dia De Los Muertos, complete with fresh marigolds, opera, dance and drama. 

 

Coming soon-ish, we’ll see what it turns into, but we’re digging around in what it is to be bicultural and interracial and mixing... It may or may not involve and essay called The Fifth Race and a book call La Raza Cósmica... I can’t say more, but STAY TUNED!

S: I never want this lunch to end! You are a joy. Thank you, Luis Ordaz Gutiérrez, Artistic and Executive Director of ProyectoTEATRO, for this time. Dear readers out there, be sure to check out proyectoteatro.com to learn more or to contribute.

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