When three friends and I started East LA Rep in 2002, I never imagined that as a company we would produce so much site-specific work. It was clear then that our mission was to present plays by emerging and veteran playwrights of Latino heritage, but we also wanted to do Shakespeare. Free Shakespeare at East LA Parks seemed like a natural fit for us as we worked toward putting East Los Angeles on the theatrical map. I was too naive to realize that the outdoor performances were in fact site-specific. Every single performance was at a different park, with its own set of rules and adventures.
As the company continued producing and presenting work at “theater” spaces, I also programmed plays at a family service organization, a Latino gay/lesbian center, a kids fair, libraries, schools and at one of my favorite Mexican restaurants. Then, in 2006-07, came 365 Days/365 Plays by Suzan-Lori Parks, produced nationally by Bonnie Metzgar and locally by Center Theatre Group. It was very important to me that East LA Rep be part of this festival in order to to get our name out to the national theater community and also to showcase East Los Angeles. The week of performances was staged guerrilla-style at various East L.A. landmarks ““ King Taco, Evergreen Cemetery, under the Whittier Blvd. arch, a taco truck, the housing projects of Maravilla, Ramona Gardens, Pico-Aliso and Estrada Courts.
In 2010, Guillermo Aviles-Rodriguez, artistic director of Watts Village Theater Company, approached me about participating in the first Meet Me @ Metro. How could I pass up the chance to be part of this new experience, of traveling along the Metro Blue Line and presenting a short piece at an outdoor corner restaurant. At this point, I realized that in fact, the company was good at producing site-specific work. It was incredibly exciting, and here I am again in 2012 saying yes to Meet Me @ Metro 3.
I’m more excited about this one because I don’t have to direct it. I have joined forces with Anthony Aguilar (playwright), Alejandra Cisneros (director), Gina Davidson (costume designer) and my cohort, Juan E. Carrillo. We came up with a fun ode to the spaghetti Western and a tribute to the music that is integral to our designated performance spot at Mariachi Plaza in Boyle Heights. I am more excited about this one, because it fits in perfectly with the new phase I have entered in life and the transition for East LA Rep from a theater company to a creative center.
I love theater, be it site-specific or traditional, but I have also changed my mind about sticking with theater exclusively. From 2007 to 2011 my life took a turn. No longer could I be selfish and focus on “my theater company.” Instead, I had to get out of the rehearsal room and accept life in full force. My first nephew was born in October 2007 and there was a shift. My mother died in April of 2008. Last July my great aunt died. I had lived with her my entire life, right up until the end. My second nephew was born a month after her death.
Finally, my little house in Boyle Heights was empty, and the reason for staying was obliterated. I no longer needed to go see every play in L.A. I no longer needed to read every new script or American Theatre magazine from cover to cover. I was content staying home with my nephew. During this time I traveled to Europe and came back with a different sense of what theater should be. I changed, and so too would East LA Rep.
As I work toward the opening of the play, For One Mariachi, that is part of Meet Me @ Metro 3, I am confident of the decision I made, along with the remaining company members, to transition from a theater company into a creative center that will support artists, engage community, elicit creativity and generate effective bonds between art and people. Meet Me @ Metro 3 travels along the Gold Line, from Union Station to the East L.A. Civic Center — it runs through my part of the city, the neighborhood that I live in and create for. And as I look back into our short history, I’m finally able to declare that East Los Angeles is the foundation of the company.
The play For One Mariachi will be part of Meet Me @ Metro 3, Aug. 25 and Aug. 26, 2012. For tickets and information visit www.meetmeatmetro.com
Jesus A. Reyes is the creative artistic director of East LA Rep and an L.A. County Arts Commissioner representing the First District. www.eastlarep.com