Tony Garcia recently celebrated his fortieth year with Su Teatro, Denver's premier Chicano and Latino theater, which he grew up with and eventually shaped into one our most important theatrical powerhouses locally. Su Teatro upholds the diversity of the Southwest with music, heart-wrenching drama and a lot of winks. That's right -- winks, because humor is Su Teatro's and Garcia's secret weapon, in addition to just being what makes the world go around.
What do you think of recent developments in your field, and the current scene?
My generation of Latino theater makers was motivated by the Chicano Civil Rights movementl however, we were also, like many in our generation, in search of our identity. That search led us to explore an aesthetic that was unique at the time. It was bilingual, multiracial and merged urban and rural sensibilities. It was eclectic and held no ironclad bond to the Western European canon. What is so exciting about today is that approach is now the norm. That firewall that existed then, that forced us to constantly contextualize our approach, has fallen. This, then, has allowed artists in my field -- a field that has merged to overlap multiple disciplines and to include all culture and arts community builders -- we can now approach so many new and interesting conversations. We can be part of the dialogue, without having to prove we have the right to speak. Sounds silly, but we were trailblazers, because the trail was always being blocked. What is exciting is that the present journey no longer requires an established trail.
What could be done to improve the scene?
We still are holding to the concept of 25 years ago that there is one centralized place ( the downtown area) where art lives, and that everything circles and evolves from there. We place our resources there accordingly. That is no longer the reality. People are creating in a myriad of locations and feature a number of approaches. The old centralized and concentrated art-establishment vortex was tied to a business model of the downtown being the central business district and people gravitating to that space. Presently and increasingly, the economic center as well as the cultural and artistic center rotates. I am saying this after Su Teatro has moved to the center of the synergistic Santa Fe Arts District, but in reality, Su Teatro created art for 21 years in a tiny neighborhood space six blocks from the stockyards. We hosted national artists and created significant work in that old school building. A vast improvement would be in our looking at developing a concept for 25 years from now. Why can't every neighborhood large and small have a space where they come together to celebrate with equal passion the experiences that the arts offer? Our pre-Columbian ancestors believed that no community was complete without a "cuicacalli" -- literally, "a house for their drum," or, as we call it today, an arts center. This is happening already, but I would like to see this concept that defines ourselves us as a city and as a metropolitan area. It should be our mindset that quality art exists in every corner of our city. It is not segmented so the good stuff is downtown and only those in that space can experience it.
Who/what has inspired you most in your career?
I have been inspired mostly by my community. Our most powerful stories are those of regular people. I have been asked to write a number of biographies or stories with historical people. I really don't find them as interesting as the people who makes things happen on an everyday basis. I don't want my characters to speak in prose that shows that they read the dictionary that morning. I am inspired by the poetry in the everyday, the drama in the mundane and the might in the meek. Ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances are stories that interest me. I am inspired by the audience experience to live performance; I am driving to duplicate the emotional, intellectual and spiritual experience that I have for everyone seated in our house. Because a work of art moves me and transforms me, I want people to have that opportunity to be moved and transformed by that work of art.
Who/what will you be watching for this arts season?
I am excited about Placas, by Paul Flores, which Su Teatro will present in the spring. It is a story of redemption as a former gang member goes through the process of tattoo ( placas) removal as a means of reclaiming his life and family. Paul spent years interviewing gang members in El Salvador as well as their counterparts in the Bay area. I want to see 5 Points Wrapped Around My Soul, by The Source, I really dig that '60s rhythm and blues. I have a lot of friends from the coast who are in Just like Us at the Denver Center; they are very excited about the development that playwright Karen Zacarias has made since the reading last spring. My favorite Chicano/Chileno hip-hop/rap/world-music band Debajo del Agua will be releasing a new album in December, and lastly, Chicano Studies at Metro will be honoring visual artist Alma Lopez as the Richard T. Castro Distinguished Professor next month. Visit Su Teatro online for more information.Continue reading for our interview with Tria Xiong.