By Luis Castilla
Like a chat between old buddies, esteemed playwright Luis Alfaro and notable actresses spoke to the East Los Angeles College Department of Theater Arts on their collaborations and what it means to be Chicano today.
Alfaro is a MacArthur Genius award-winning Chicano playwright.
Alfaro is fresh from just releasing his book, “The Greek Trilogy of Luis Alfaro: Electricidad; Oedipus El Rey; Mojada,” a collection of his Greek trilogy which mirrors Greek tales with the lives of Chicano/a and Latino/a communities.
Joining Alfaro were actresses Zilah Mendoza, Sabina Zuniga Verela, Monica Sanchez and ELAC professor Cristina Frias, all of whom have worked with Alfaro and have a string of accomplishments under their respective belts. “There’s an ancient thread between all of us,” Alfaro said.
While all speakers said they identify as Chicano or Chicana, they each said it was a term that they did not immediately understand. It was a term they had to learn to identify with. “Our identities evolve and change over time as we grow into them,” Frias said.
Alfaro said he began his Greek trilogy after he joined a workshop at Borderlands Theater in Tucson AZ. There, he met a 13-year-old girl who murdered her mother because she had put a hit on her father who was a drug dealer. That night, he went to see a play at the Arizona Theater Company. Afterwards, he stopped by the gift shop which was having a sale on Greek plays. “I had never read the Greeks, you know, because I’m an LAUSD graduate,” Alfaro said.
“The first play I read was ‘Electra,’ the story of a young girl who murder her mother to avenger her father’s death,” Alfaro said, opening his eyes to the parallels between the tales and modern life.
Varela said that when she was teaching at a middle school in Albuquerque NM, she once invited 300 of her students to a performance of ‘Electricidad.’
“They saw themselves. They saw people who were talking like them,” Varela said.
Frias said that she teaches the Greeks as an introduction and exposes her students to Alfaro’s work after that. “As soon as I have the opportunity to introduce them to your (Alfaro’s) adaptation, everything changed,” Frias said. “I really saw them unlock their understanding of what Greeks are within our Chicano reality.”
Theater major Raquel Robles Marcelino, who attended the event, said she learned the importance of making connections with people in the industry early.
“It reminded me that right now is when we as students are starting to form connections with people that will most likely continue working in this industry,” Marcelino said. “It’s important to keep that in mind because we might call or be called to work on a project for these people we are studying with today.”
Because all the speakers have known each other for years, everyone spoke freely and comfortably about their careers in theater and performing arts.
Frias began the discussion by showing everyone a program of ‘Black Butterfly, Jaguar Girl, Pinata Woman and Other Superhero Girls, Like Me,’ which she and Alfaro worked on more than 20 years ago.
“Time flew by so quickly, I felt like we were at a dinner party just talking,” Marcelino said.
“The Greek Trilogy of Luis Alfaro: Electricidad; Oedipus El Rey; Mojada” is available on Amazon and other book stores.