Couple helps create younger audience for theater

By Marc Anthony Martinez

Latino Theater Company strives to give theater students a diverse place to learn through productions like a Mexican trilogy.

Jose Luis Valenzuela and Evelina Fernandez, husband and wife, director and playwright started the LTC 38 years ago. 

When they started the LTC, the couple wanted to create a political theater space but had to figure out how to accomplish that. 

So they created a laboratory to train people and work with them. 

They needed a place to exercise, train and a place to sit, rehearse and talk about theater as well. 

Fourty years later, they feel like their idea for theater is still needed.

The Impact Initiative is an agreement between the LTC and a variety of colleges. These include:

The nine colleges in the Los Angeles Community College District

Pasadena City College

Mount San Antonio College

Glendale City College

   The initiative gives students the opportunity to watch plays at the Los Angeles Theater Center for free. 

The initiative also helps students to engage in a cultural dialogue with the community through workshops and artistic discussion. 

The agreement with the LACCD makes it possible to take Latino plays into the Theater Department of each of the colleges in the district. This would allow for Latino students to be a part of the plays and relate to them. 

Fernandez said working with community colleges helps the LATC because they get to the younger audience. 

This is in contrast to other theaters which stick with an older audience without plans to garner a younger audience for the future.

“If we bring these young people into the theater, then you start creating a tradition of them going to the theater. They’re interest[ed] in becoming theater goers in the future,” Fernandez said.

They invite students that want to get into theater to workshops and readings that will help them succeed in the business. This allows students to get in contact with other people and go to the right places they need to go to get better and succeed.

The Impact Initiative has gained the LTC an audience that is predominately young, people of color.

“A Mexican Trilogy: An American Story” was performed by three different colleges. 

Each of the three colleges performed one part of the trilogy. 

Los Angeles City College performed “Charity,” which takes place during the Iraq war and the death of Pope John Paul II. 

East Los Angeles College performed “Faith,” taking place during The Great Depression and World War II. 

Los Angeles Valley College performed “Hope,” which takes place during the Kennedy presidency and through his assassination.

Fernandez said there was a specific purpose for the trilogy taking place in different eras.

“My motivation is that I feel like so many times that Chicano, Mexican Americans or Latinos are excluded from American history. So I wanted to follow this family over a span of 100 years from the time they arrived from Mexico from the Mexican revolution up until the Iraq war.”

Fernandez said each campus was different and that ELAC has had an amazing theater department ever since she attended. 

It has a history of being a great theater department along with LACC. LAVC was a different experience, because many of those actors hadn’t done a play before.

“I’m really proud of all the students. It’s a lot of work to do a play. I think sometimes people think it’s easy to be an actor, but it’s like every other profession. You have to work at it,” Fernandez said.

Valenzuela directed all three plays and had three assistants help him. 

Mark Anthony Vallejo, Ramiro Segovia and Israel Lopez helped Valenzuela with getting the production and performers ready for the shows.

In college, you can only practice three times a week for four hours. 

They were allowed to do more hours and days, but wanted the students to have time for homework, work and other things as well.

Valenzuela would work two days a week at each college and the third day, the assistants would take over when he wasn’t able to be there.

“It was kind of crazy to tell you the truth, but it’s okay because it’s almost over,” Valenzuela said. 

The trilogy will be at the LATC, and has four main stage theaters. Each play will be on one of those stages. 

The plan is to have performances on Thursday and Friday with shows going on at 8 p.m. 

They are still in talks with the colleges, but the plan is to have shows on Saturdays and Sundays with the shows being from 2 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. and a final showing at 8:30 p.m. 

The weekend schedule would allow audiences to watch the entire trilogy in one weekend.

Following this kind of schedule would allow for students to get an ideaof what it is like in a professional setting.

“I’m very excited about it. I think it’s a great experience for the kids to begin with, to be in a professional setting,” Valenzuela said.

The actors from each school will be in the same dressing room, same building and will be able to talk to each other and network amongeach other. 

This isn’t the first time Fernandez’s trilogy would be done with this type of schedule at the LATC. 

The whole story with all three shows was about six hours long and they held a dinner break in between.

Fernandez was in the trilogy as an actor and knows what goes into making a good show. 

She started off as an actor, but switched to writing plays after she didn’t like the roles that were available for Latinas. 

That’s when she started writing plays portraying women the way she saw them: stronger, deeper and more complex.

“I think my best writing is probably in ‘Charity,’ because the characters are a little more complex, deeper and deals with a lot of different issues,” Fernandez said.

They originally had a 20-year lease on the LATC in 2006. Two years ago, the lease was extended for 30 more years. 

 They are implementing a five-year secession plan to start teaching the younger generation how things are run and to help them takeover. 

They plan to teaching the next generation why things are done the way the pair does things in the theater. The focus is always to impart the importance of telling stories in a personal way, but remaining on a professional level.

The purpose of the LTC is allow for all ethnicities to participate and create diverse shows. 

This is why the theater is focused on reaching out to younger audiences. 

“Right now, we are planning our next season. We’re really trying to figure out how to make it diverse… we feel like that’s important,” Fernandez said.

Valenzuela taught at University of California Los Angeles for 28 years and was head of the Master of Fine Arts directing program.

This competitive program only allowed three students a year to be a part of it and over the years he taught, he only ever taught six Latino students.

When he retired from UCLA in 2019, he felt like he hadn’t been able to work with a young community and went to ELAC to try and see what he can do with them. 

Spending time at ELAC, he learned of the homeless student situation. After some research, he found out that 20% of the students in community college are homeless and 37% live below poverty. 

The Impact Initiative is a way to help those students in theater and give them a chance to succeed.

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