A cause for action

El Teatro Campesino takes its audience on a retrospective look in ‘¡Viva La Causa!’

‘¡Viva La Causa!’ theatrical performance at El Teatro Campesino
SOCIAL JUSTICE ¡Viva La Causa! preserves Chicano history in a meaningful way that still has very contemporary implications. Photo: Robert Eliason

If walls could talk, El Teatro Campesino’s would speak of the stories and the characters that existed within them. They may even speak of the lives and struggles of the performers who acted within them.

Such stories are reflected in the the pictures that hang upon the walls and in the costumes and props from the past productions nestled between them.

With its most recent production, ¡Viva la Causa! (Long Live the Cause), El Teatro Campesino (ETC) is literally taking audiences behind these walls and revisiting the stories they held. It also tells of the history and the current issues of the Chicano people.

Initially developed by ETC artists, “¡Viva La Causa!” premiered at the theater in the spring of 2016 as a retrospective piece to celebrate the 50-year history of the theater.  

Recently, these artists felt a responsibility to bring the show back while making the necessary changes to it in order to respond to the current political climate.

Christy Sandoval and Emily Morales co-produce and co-direct this current production, as well as perform in it. Along with Andres Ortiz and Cristal Gonzalez (fellow performers in the show), Sandoval and Morales reworked last year’s script for a newer, more timely version.

This newest adaptation of ¡Viva La Causa! is much like last year’s: being a first of it’s kind.

Audience members begin their experience with a guided tour of the playhouse, and are walked around to the back room. It is there where the main character, Honest Sanchita (played by Cristal Gonzalez), describes the memorabilia from the theater’s past and encourages audience members to bid on them.

Shortly into the performance, it is realized that this play is more than just the fun of a live auction.

“When we first developed this piece, the dystopian world we thought was hyper fictionalized has in a lot of ways become a reality. We felt it even more timely to bring back this show now,” Sandoval said.

The show takes place in the not so distant future, where the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has raided San Juan Bautista. Sanchita has barricaded herself inside the teatro after losing all her friends, despite them having been American citizens.

The first people Sanchita encounters, since then, are the audience members. So she and her sidekick Rudy (played by Carlos “Quiensave” Cortez) take them from room to room to share historical memorabilia with them, hoping to preserve their memories and history.

As the audience begins to move through the playhouse, Sanchita presents them with the classic teatro tale of “La Carpa de los Rasquachi” and a special tribute to the creation of “Zoot Suit.”

A poignant puppet show taken from the teatro vault, “Juanito y los ABC’s,” is also performed. It is a tale of a young Chicano boy growing up in the American educational system and it has found resonance to many of its viewers.

Morales recalled how she’d seen this puppet show affect the many students who have come to watch school shows.

“You see the kids reacting, and even feeling sad for the character, and you can see kind of how it’s even reflected in their lives too. They can see themselves and find themselves within the production. That is the best part for me and the most rewarding, for sure.”

It is the ending of the play, however, that will leave audience members pondering over the issues affecting the Chicano people today. It blends the tale of “Corridos” with a tale of social justice. Though it was depicted as a fictional world of the future, it rings truth to what is presently occurring in our country.

“When we first wrote it, it was more of a satire in a totally impossible world of what if somebody like a Trump-like figure were to be elected,” said Morales. “This year, that kind of craziness, that reality, came to life.”

Much like Sanchita, Sandoval said that El Teatro Campesino has always had a mandate for social justice, and that the artists there feel a responsibility to keep Chicano history from being forgotten.

“The current youth is at risk of not knowing this history and these stories,” she said.  Preserving this history in a meaningful way that hopefully reaches the mind through the heart, is really what the Teatro has always been about and continues to be.”

Performances for ‘¡Viva La Causa!’ continue through September 24: Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays at 8pm and Saturday & Sunday matinee shows at 2pm. Tickets range from $15-$20 (Special discount codes and promotions to be released via El Teatro Campesino’s Facebook page on select performances). El Teatro Campesino Playhouse is located at 705 Fourth St, San Juan Bautista. For more information, visit elteatrocampesino.com.

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