100 Colorado Creatives: Tony Garcia

Tony Garcia, with rifle, in "Chicano History 101," 1986.
Tony Garcia, with rifle, in "Chicano History 101," 1986.

#83: Anthony Garcia

Tony Garcia, who turns sixty this spring, has spent his entire adult life with Su Teatro, the region's primary Chicano theater group, which itself just celebrated forty years. He was just a kid from the westside who played in a rock band when he joined Su Teatro as a musician; Garcia vividly recalls performing traditional carpas -- topical and broadly comedic street skits -- with the group in the early, politically turbulent days of grape boycotts and La Raza.

See also: - Raising the Barrio - Su Teatro makes itself right at home for its first full season at the Denver Civic - Su Teatro's I Don't Speak English Only remains relevant in the group's 40th season

Garcia's tenacity is only a byproduct of finding his calling: Over the years, he grew up to become the troupe's artistic leader and chief visionary -- an actor, director and playwright who never sweats the fact that his roots are always showing. His dedication to the community he serves is inspiring, and Garcia does it all while wielding a sharp wit and a formidable sense of humor that permeates much of Su Teatro's original works. It's not overkill to call him one of Denver's living treasures; the only amazing thing about it is that he must still fight for recognition outside of his barrio constituents.

Garcia, wiith Yolanda Ortega at Teatro en el Parque, around 1976.
Garcia, wiith Yolanda Ortega at Teatro en el Parque, around 1976.

Now at home at the Civic Theatre in the Art District on Santa Fe for the last couple of years, Su Teatro still sometimes struggles to stay above water. The group is currently in the midst of a major spring fundraising push (donations can be made online through the Colorado Gives website), yet Garcia recently welcomed another struggling theater ensemble -- the Source -- to join Su Teatro at the Civic.

We asked Garcia to answer our 100CC questionnaire, and Su Teatro's upcoming collaboration with the Source is just one of the things he discusses in his answers below. Read on for a taste of Anthony Garcia's enduring -- and cheeky -- wisdom and a look at his continuing dreams for Su Teatro.


Garcia's baseball card for "Chicanos Sing the Blues."
Garcia's baseball card for "Chicanos Sing the Blues."

Westword: What are you looking forward to in 2013? 

Anthony Garcia: The Source Theatre and Su Teatro collaboration on the play The Gospel at Colonus this June. It is a big undertaking and it will be a great opportunity for the Latino and African-American community to come together. My collaborator, composer Daniel Valdez, will be here with us for two years on a project to raise our artistic capacity: This effort will be big step forward for our companies that should force us to grow. The ultimate goal is to produce at the level Daniel demands, with him or without him. 

If you could collaborate with anyone in history, who would it be, and why? 

Charlie Chaplin once called Mario Moreno, whose stage name was Cantiflas, the world's greatest comedian. I would have loved to have been writing and performing alongside him in the carpas. They developed a unique style of comedic theatre that was very Mexican, but made it to this side of the border.

I never saw myself as the Chicano Arthur Miller, whom I dig. I have always been aware that my limitation and my strength was my short attention span; my ability to channel anger about social issues into ridicule of those in power, while also turning the criticism on you and me. How do you combine Lenny Bruce and Mexican theatre? That would be a great collaboration. I also would like to tour with Los Lobos and would love to have jammed with Doug Sahm and the Sir Douglas Quintet.

Who in the world is interesting to you right now, and why? 

I get my mind blown all the time. Dr. Tomas Ybarra-Frausto (formerly of the Rockefeller Foundation) is like the smartest guy on the arts and its role in social change and in sparking cultural identity. He can make me think and cry and wish I was ten times better able to absorb all his wisdom. He is a master storyteller and sage -- and he really likes my writing. I told you he was smart.

What's one art trend you want to see die this year? 

The idea that we will have all our art delivered to us electronically, via youtube, twitter o quien sabe que [or who knows what]. Those experiences are ancillary, and are not equal to the live, unmediated experience. The live human artistic interaction will be with us long into the future. To feel is to touch. Humans crave tactility. 

Continue reading for more from Anthony Garcia.  

What is your day job?

I am the executive artistic director at Su Teatro Cultural and Performing Arts Center. I am involved in the day-to-day operations (which seems to happen during the day) as well as the artistic work (which happens a lot at night).  

A mystery patron offers you unlimited funds for life. What will you do with it? 

I am a big infrastructure builder, so I would invest in working with arts and community groups to strengthen their staffing, pay employees better, build professional development training, create opportunities for all the things the consultants are always telling us to do, but that we can never afford.

What's the one thing Denver (or Colorado) could do to help the arts? 

I would require the Office of Economic Development to invest at least 50 percent of their grants in arts and creative organizations, and I would also require the one percent for the arts program to invest 50 percent of their funds in Colorado artists.

I would reauthorize the SCFD permanently with an eye to how the district has changed in terms of decentralized arts programming and changing demographics.

I would also work toward an understanding of the intrinsic value of arts, beyond after-school programs and economic development. I would like our public entities and private entities to see the arts as a direct reflection of the life we live here. We have such an abundance of riches in Colorado, yet we still suffer from an inferiority complex, because we are not LA or NYC.

The arts are not seen as being an end in themselves. In many ways the purpose of art is to be. That is not saying art for art's sake, but we say todo vale. Everything has value. And the arts have value in themselves.

 Who is your favorite Colorado Creative? 

Casa Milagro uses theater to help kids explore alternatives to violence. My grandson acts with the company, so I am biased. I also like Cafe Cultura, Slam Nuba and anything visual artist Carlos Fresquez creates. 

Do you think Su Teatro is experiencing a generation gap? 

There are generational gaps in every venture, but our organization has participation on all levels. Our board chair is in his early thirties and we have staff members in their twenties, thirties and forties --- and now I am turning sixty. The gap we have is in the fifty-year-olds, but I think there is plenty of representation in that demographic in other areas. Clearly, the Main Stage theatrical productions are the engine that pulls everything along, and that audience is older. But we continue to draw student groups, too -- where we lose audience members is really in that period when they marry and have small children. We have programs that are family-friendly, so everyone can come, but date nights become less frequent until the kids are old enough to come, too.   How do you continue to engage the community? 

Moving to Santa Fe Drive has put us even deeper in the heart of the community. People feel free to walk in anytime. If you want to meet almost anyone from the Latino community, come to Su Teatro often enough and you will run into them. So for us, the engagement is central to what we do. We encourage it. We thrive on it. We couldn't get out of it, if we wanted to.

Throughout the year, we'll be casting our radar on 100 superstars from Denver's rich creative community. Stay tuned to Show and Tell for more, or visit the 100 Colorado Creatives archive to catch up.

Who rocks your world locally? Do you have a suggestion for a future profile? Feel free to leave your picks in the comments.

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Related Location

Su Teatro at the Denver Civic Theatre

721 Santa Fe Dr.
Denver, CO 80204


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