Valdez, Luis (Drama Criticism)
Luis Valdez 1940-
Considered the originator of modern Chicano theater, Valdez is best known as the founding director of El Teatro Campesino, a seminal grassroots theater group initially formed to convince California migrant farmworkers of the value of unionization. Valdez, who writes some works in English and others in a blend of English and Spanish, is credited with having provided momentum to the Chicano theater movement through his highly vivid style and his ability to place the Chicano experience within a universal American framework.
Born into a family of migrant farmworkers in Delano, California, Valdez began working in the fields at six years of age. Although his education was frequently interrupted by his family's constant travel, Valdez finished high school and subsequently attended San Jose State College. After graduating in 1964 Valdez joined the San Francisco Mime Troupe, from which he gained an appreciation of agitprop theater, which makes use of political agitation and propaganda to protest social injustice. Valdez returned to Delano in 1965 to assist César Chávez and the United Farmworkers Union in their efforts to unionize migrant workers. There Valdez organized the strikers into a performing group to dramatize the exploitation of farmworkers and to demonstrate the necessity of unionization for their financial survival. In 1967 Valdez and El Teatro Campesino began touring nationally, expanding their focus on the plight of migrant farmworkers to include the Chicanos' roots in Native American history, music, and myth. In the early 1970s Valdez's emphasis on mysticism and indigenous concerns eventually resulted in a split between El Teatro Campesino and the overall Chicano theater movement. Since the mid-1970s Valdez has become additionally involved in writing and directing for television and film productions. In 1994 he received the Aguila Azteca Award (Golden Eagle Award) from the Mexican Government. The following year he became a founding faculty member of the new California State University at Monterey Bay.
Valdez was credited early in his career with creating the acto, a short, often humorous dramatic sketch that employs the language of working-class Chicanos to present a lucid social or political message. Valdez's early actos, generally written or created with other members of El Teatro Campesino, often make use of humor and simple representational strategies, including signs imprinted with characters' occupations that are hung around actors' necks or masks that actors exchange to reverse their traditional roles. Valdez's plays of the late 1960s and early 1970s, including No saco nada de la escuela, Vietnam campesino, and Soldado razo (The Chicano Soldier), deal with such subjects as the American school system's tendency to force cultural assimilation on minorities and the overrepresentation of Chicanos in the Vietnam War. Traditional Native American and modern issues converge in Dark Root of a Scream, in which the death of a Chicano soldier is treated as a sacrifice to the gods, paralleling Aztec culture and history. By the mid-1970s El Teatro Campesino had become more commercially oriented. In 1978 Valdez's drama Zoot Suit enjoyed a highly successful run in Los Angeles. Considered the first play to draw large Mexican American audiences to a mainstream American theater production, the drama is metatheatrical and documentary in nature. In this work Valdez uses Latin American music, sections of courtroom transcripts, and quotes from newspaper reports to examine the Sleepy Lagoon murder case, in which several young Chicanos in east Los Angeles were convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment based on circumstantial evidence. In subsequent works, such as his play / Don't Have to Show You No Stinking Badges! and La Bamba, a film concerning Chicano pop star Ritchie Valens, Valdez has continued to deconstruct negative stereotypes regarding Chicanos and Mexicans within a mainstream perspective that avoids exclusive minority concerns.
Although sometimes faulted for his overly idealistic rendering of Native American culture, Valdez has been credited with providing the impetus that led to the genesis of the Chicano theater movement and with creating the now-accepted genre of Chicano theater, as based on the acto. A leader and innovator, Valdez is widely recognized as one of the few dramatists who have been able to change the way Chicanos are perceived by white America. Summarizing Valdez's achievement, John Harrop and Jorge Huerta have declared that "dedication to theatre, to his people, and to all humanity has always been the guiding spirit and sustaining force of Luis Valdez."
The Theft 1961
The Shrunken Head of Pancho Villa 1963
Las dos caras del patroncito [The Two Faces of the Boss] 1965
La quinta temporada 1966
Los vendidos [The Sell Outs] 1967
La conquista de México 1968
The Militants 1969
No saco nada de la escuela 1969
Huelguistas [The Strikers] 1970
Vietnam campesino 1970
Actos [with El Teatro Campesino] 1971
Dark Root of a Scream 1971
La gran carpa de los rasquachis [The Great Tent of the Underdogs] 1971
Soldado razo [The Chicano Soldier] 1971
La virgen del Tepeyac 1971
El fin del mundo 1972
Los olivos pits 1972
El baile de los gigantes 1974
Zoot Suit 1978
I Don't Have to Show You No Stinking Badges! 1986
Zoot Suit and Other Plays 1992
I Am Joaquín 1969
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Notes on Chicano Theatre (1970)
SOURCE: "Notes on Chicano Theatre," in Luis Valdez—Early Works: Actos, Bernabé and Pensamiento Serpentino, Arte Publico Press, 1990, pp. 6-10.
[In the following essay, which was written in 1970, Valdez attempts to define a uniquely Chicano theater.]
What is Chicano theatre? It is theatre as beautiful, rasquachi, human, cosmic, broad, deep, tragic, comic, as the life of La Raza itself. At its high point Chicano theatre is religion—the huelguistas de Delano praying at the shrine of the Virgen de Guadalupe, located in the rear of an old station wagon parked across the road from DiGiorgio's camp #4; at its low point, it is a cuento or a chiste told somewhere in the recesses of the barrio, puro pedo.
Chicano theatre, then, is first a reaffirmation of LIFE. That is what all theatre is supposed to be, of course; but the limp, superficial, gringo seco productions in the "professional" American theatre (and the college and university drama departments that serve it) are so antiseptic, they are antibiotic (anti-life). The characters and life situations emerging from our little teatros are too real, too full of sudor, sangre and body smells to be boxed in. Audience participation is no cute production trick with us; it is a pre-established, pre-assumed privilege. "¡Que le suenen la campanita!"
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Overviews And General Studies
John Harrop and Jorge Huerta (essay date 1975)
SOURCE: "The Agitprop Pilgrimage of Luis Valdez and El Teatro Campesino," in Theatre Quarterly, Vol. 5, No. 17, March-May 1975, pp. 30-9.
[In this essay, the authors trace the origins and evolution of El Teatro Campesino and Valdez's work with the group.]
San Juan Bautista is a very ordinary, small town in central California. Its chief attraction to outsiders is the Catholic Mission—one of those churches the Spanish priests dotted along the coast of California in their eighteenth century odyssey, with cross and sword, to claim the heathen Indian for Christ. An odd place to find Peter Brook and his International Centre for Theatre Research—among the arid hills where, for the mere wages of survival, expatriate Mexicans now work the land that once belonged to their ancestors.
But here, for six weeks in the summer of 1973, Brook and his acolytes came to work with and to learn from one of the most remarkable theatre groups now working in the United States. For San Juan Bautista is the present home of Luis Valdez and his Teatro Campesino—farmworkers' theatre—which, since it was founded in late 1965 to protest against the economic and spiritual exploitation of the Chicanos,1 has managed to retain its popular integrity while achieving an artistic stature that has won it awards in the United States and...
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R. G. Davis and Betty Diamond (essay date 1981)
SOURCE: "Zoot Suit: From the Barrio to Broadway," in Ideologies & Literature, Vol. III, No. 15, January-March 1981, pp. 124-33.
[In the essay below, Davis and Diamond charge that Zoot Suit is "a bad play, politically and aesthetically. "]
Zoot Suit, by Luis Valdez, was the first Chicano play on Broadway. Valdez chose as his subject an actual event—the Sleepy Lagoon Murder case. On August 2, 1942. José Díaz was found dead in a dirt road near Los Angeles. There were no witnesses and no murder weapon, but twenty-four Chicanos were indicted for the murder of this one boy. The Hearst papers played it up as a "Mexican crimewave," and in the trial the Chicanos involved were referred to as members of a "gang." The prosecution charged that one of the members of the gang, Henry Leyvas, was beaten by members of a rival gang at the reservoir nicknamed "Sleepy Lagoon," and that Leyvas and his gang returned armed and organized for the purpose of revenge on the rival gang. Admitted as evidence was this statement from a report written by Capt. E. Duran Ayers, Chief of Foreign Relations Bureau of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department:
The biological basis is the main basis to work from. Although a wild cat and a domestic cat are of the same family, they have certain...
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Bagby, Beth. "El Teatro Campesino: Interviews with Luis Valdez." Tulane Drama Review 11, No. 4 (Summer 1967): 70-80.
Discussion in which Valdez speaks of his involvement in activist theater.
Brokaw, John W. Review of Dos peones por patroncito, Los vendidos, and El soldado razo. Educational Theatre Journal 26, No. 1 (March 1974): 108-10.
Descriptive review of the performance of three of Valdez's works theater in Mexico City. "The political power of Valdez' scripts is well documented," Brokaw asserts, "but it took a Mexican director and his actors to realize that the plays have this much esthetic power."
Drake, Sylvie. "El Teatro Campesino: Keeping the Revolution on Stage." Performing Arts 4, No. 9 (September 1970): 56-62.
Profile of Valdez and El Teatro Campesino. The Campesino's impact Drake observes, is "immediate and enormous, characterized by extraordinary vitality, earthy humor, and an approach so direct as to seem more primitive than it really is."
Herms, Dieter. "Luis Valdez, Chicano Dramatist: An Introduction and an Interview." In Essays on American Drama, ed. Hedwig Bock and Albert Wertheim, pp. 257-78. Munich: Max Hueber Verlag, 1981.
Focuses on "the genesis, on the shaping and the making of Zoot Suit, at a time when preparations began for taking the production to Broadway."...
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