ELAC theater department hosts Chicano Moratorium art show

By Annette M. Leaure

East Los Angeles College’s Theater department hosted “Meet the Cast” before premiering “EAST LOS….R I S I N G 1970-2020, THEN & NOW”, in honor of the Chicano Moratorium. 

The show’s director Cristina Frías, ELAC’s first-ever Hispanic to join the Theater Arts department’s full-time tenure track, said that the 50th Anniversary of the Chicano Moratorium inspired her to create the project. She began to research the project when COVID-19 thrust her actors into distance learning and abruptly altered their plans for production. “Last March, things got shut down, and we all got sent home. So we all had to rethink our season and how we were going to move forward,” said Frías.

The Chicano Moratorium was previously known as the National Chicano Moratorium Committee Against The Vietnam War. It was a movement created by Mexican-American anti-war activists in opposition to the Vietnam War. The march that made history ended with three deaths, including journalist Ruben Salazar. The rally was led by more than 20,000 protestors, some of whom are portrayed in the “EAST LOS….R I S I N G 1970-2020, THEN & NOW” production. 

“This production is devised theater. I came up with the concept once I knew we were doing something virtual. I knew that it would be really hard to direct a full-length play in this environment. So I thought about what I could do that reflects the moment we’re living in,” said Frías. 

Frías began the daunting task of holding auditions, casting and doing all of the research from home. “I’m glad I started preparing early on because I know how hard theater is anyway, and how much time it takes. But creating a project is different because I had to build in my research. I had to create interviews and then guide the students after the interviews to write monologues based on those transcripts for the characters they were going to portray. So that’s where their work started,” said Frías.

“I would say ‘EAST LOS R I S I N G’ is a hybrid, theater-meets-film, project. I literally had to storyboard every clip, which took hours and hours. I also have a great ELAC Theater production team that helped a lot ,” said Frías about the pre-recorded show.

Frías soon realized that a 20-year career in theater had connected her with the right people who would share their experiences from August 29, 1970, the day of the Chicano Moratorium. 

“The people portrayed in ‘EAST LOS….R I S I N G’ were either there, or it made an impact on them in one way or another. They are like cultural leaders in our East LA community. They were all so honored to be included and remembered. To me, it just made sense as an educator to connect the elders with the students,” said Frías about the iconic activists. 

One activist portrayed in the production is Consuelo Flores, 59, who was only nine years old the day the march for peace took place. “To this day, even talking to you about it, right now I want to cry. I’m nine years old, and I’m seeing the cop who’s supposed to protect me, whacking a young man. My shoes fall off, and I just keep running. I’m running with my bare feet, so now my feet are burning too, and I’m just trying to get home,” said Flores about her experience in a Los Angeles Times interview. 

ELAC theater student Carolina Meza, 33, who played Flores, said the experience was fascinating. Meza said, “This experience showed me a different world of theater. It really immersed me in my culture because I never felt like a Chicana before, being half Salvadorian and half Mexican. It helped me find my roots and opened my eyes to the struggle of my Latino people.”

 “This is about social justice. I see this project as just the beginning. I consider this a way of giving back,” said Frías about her production plans in the Spring. 
To screen “EAST LOS….R I S I N G 1970-2020, THEN & NOW” visit:  https://istream.elac.edu/Watch/ELR2020

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