• New Denver Center plays take center stage in Seattle, San Diego

    by John Moore | Apr 14, 2018
    Our video report from the openings of the Denver Center-born plays 'The Great Leap' and 'American Mariachi' in Seattle and San Diego. Video by John Moore and David Lenk for the DCPA NewsCenter. 


    Theatre Company's first co-productions in a decade open for West Coast audiences on back-to-back nights 

    By John Moore
    Senior Arts Journalist

    It was an hour before the opening performance of the Denver-born play American Mariachi at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego, and something wasn't quite right. A large backstage table was filled with floating balloons, sweets and several bouquets of fresh congratulatory flowers, including one from the Denver Center for the Performing Arts.

    But then there was the incongruous vase on Bobby Plasencia’s dressing-room table. Its water was discolored, its flowers tired and wilting. But to the actor, they were surely the most vibrant flowers in the room.

    American Mariachi in San Diego. Photo by John Moore“They’ve been here ever since our final dress rehearsal,” said Plasencia, who plays an old-school mariachi player whose wife dies in the story. After that performance almost a week before, the actor got word that a 12-year-old boy in the audience wanted to meet him. Plasencia walked to the stage door and was greeted by “this super-cool little dude,” he said, wearing a tie and perfectly gelled hair. The boy took one look at Plasencia, fell into his arms and burst into tears. “And he just couldn’t stop,” Plasencia said.  

    One of the grown-ups in the entourage pulled Plasencia aside and whispered that the boy had recently lost someone very close to him, and that the play had moved him immensely. The boy collected himself and presented Plasencia with flowers as a gift for the entire cast. “And they are going to stay right here until our very last day here on April 29,” Plasencia promised.  

    Those kinds of powerful audience responses to José Cruz González’s family drama have been steady since the play premiered back in Denver on Feb. 2. And because of several unique partnerships the DCPA Theatre Company has forged this season, they are continuing to happen in multiple cities.

    American Mariachi is one of two world-premiere plays the Denver Center has recently launched as co-productions with other leading national theatre organizations. The other was Lauren Yee’s The Great Leap in partnership with the Seattle Repertory Theatre. Both plays tell culturally specific stories that bring underrepresented voices to the stage while also telling uncommonly universal family stories.

    Jose Cruz Gonzalez quoteA co-production, or “co-pro,” as they say in the biz, is a collaboration between two companies that have a shared investment in launching a new play, both artistically and financially. They work together on the development of the piece, share certain expenses and then present the play in both cities back-to-back, with the original casts intact.

    When both plays closed in Denver last month, all key creative personnel packed up along with the sets, props and costumes and set forth to either Seattle or San Diego for their immediate transfers. By great calendrical coincidence, both plays opened in their second cities on back-to-back nights: March 28 and 29.

    Despite the modest financial benefit that comes with partnering with other companies, large-scale co-productions are rare in the American theatre. In its nearly 40-year history, the DCPA Theatre Company has only participated in three previous co-pros — Pure Confidence with Cincinnati Playhouse in 2007; and the world premieres of The Laramie Project with the Tectonic Theatre Project in 1999-2000 and Tantalus with the Royal Shakespeare Company the following year.

    The partnerships with Seattle Rep and the Old Globe involved dozens of people but were primarily negotiated by first-year DCPA Associate Artistic Director Nataki Garrett. The goal, she said, was simple: To make better, more finished plays — thereby giving them better chances for a continued life in the American theatre.  

    “The main reason I wanted to push for these co-productions is because I wanted to look for opportunities for the writers to continue to work on developing their plays,” Garrett said.

    Both productions shared key creative personnel from both companies, including American Mariachi director James Vásquez, who considers the Old Globe to be his artistic home; and Seattle Rep Director of New Works Kristen Leahey, who has served as Dramaturg for The Great Leap since its first draft. That almost all of the Latinx artists Vazquez has brought home with him to the Old Globe are now working there for the first time, Artistic Director Barry Edelstein said, “is a special happiness for all of us.” His Seattle counterpart, Braden Abraham, called The Great Leap "an irresistible opportunity to showcase a rising Chinese-American playwright in the Pacific Northwest," and said working with Garrett and the whole team in Denver was "a pure joy."   

    (Story continues below the photo gallery.)

    Our complete photo gallery from Seattle and San Diego:

    Denver Center in Seattle and San Diego

    Photos from the openings of 'The Great Leap' and 'American Mariachi' in Seattle and San Diego. To see more, click on the image above to be taken to our full Flickr gallery. Photos by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.

    Both plays were begun as commissions by former DCPA Theatre Company Artistic Director Kent Thompson. A commission is when a company pays a playwright a stipend to write a new work for its right of first refusal to produce. González began writing American Mariachi in 2014, and it was first presented as a featured reading at the Denver Center’s 2016 Colorado New Play Summit. Back then it was a sprawling, 150-page script. By the time of its world premiere in Denver in February, it was down to 95 pages. “So it's now very lean, and it moves like gangbusters,” said González, who continued to hone the script all the way up to opening night in San Diego on March 29.

    “Having the opportunity to have a play done in two places is a tremendous gift to a playwright,” González said. “First, to be able to premiere it in Denver and work out all the things that still needed to happen in terms of casting, storytelling and design. We left Denver feeling very satisfied, and yet that whole time we were still watching our audiences take in the play. We were learning from them and thinking about how we could improve it. And then there is the gift of that second production.”

    the-company-of-american-mariachi-photo-by-adamsviscom_39989611081_oAmerican Mariachi, set in the early 1970s, follows the journey of a young woman named Lucha who has become the caretaker for a mother with dementia. When she finds an old mariachi record that briefly brings her mother back to life, Lucha becomes determined to learn how to play the song for her with live musicians before it is too late. Although being a female mariachi player was unheard of at that time, Lucha defies her grumpy father, assembles a group of women and makes her dream come true.

    (Pictured above, from left: Amanda Robles, Jennifer Paredes, Natalie Camunas, Crissy Guerrero and Heather Velazquez. Photo by Adams VisCom.)

    American Mariachi played in the Denver Center’s largest theatre (750 seats) and exceeded box-office projections. The play is enjoying the same kind of crossover appeal in San Diego, where it is playing in a slightly more intimate, 600-seat space. None of which surprises the women in the cast.

    “This play is doing much more than filling a Latino slot on the season,” said actor Crissy Guerrero. “It has touched anyone from any background.” It is also the right time to be telling this story in the current cultural zeitgeist, said castmate Natalie Camunas. “It is important to show strong women on the stage doing what they do best right now, which is encouraging and supporting each other and shining,” she said.

    Video spotlight: Our interview with Lauren Yee

    All theatre companies, to an extent, program according to their censuses. In Denver, the Latino population is 31.8 percent, compared to 31.6 percent in San Diego. While the Denver Center has demonstrated a longstanding commitment to presenting plays with Latinx voices (most recently Native Gardens, Just Like Us, Fade and Lydia), The Great Leap, meanwhile, is only the second play by an Asian-American playwright the Denver Center has ever presented. But in Denver, the Asian-American population is just 3.4 percent, compared to 13.7 in Seattle.

    linden-tailor-photo-by-adamsviscom_39272674395_oYee’s The Great Leap, set in the late 1980s, follows a scrappy Asian-American kid who talks his way onto a college basketball team that embarks on a series of “friendship” games in a China in the throes of the post-Cultural Revolution. Yee grew up in basketball-mad San Francisco, and her story was inspired by events from her father’s real experiences. Much of the play revolves around the intersecting lives of the two coaches — the compliant Chinese and the (really) ugly American.

    "This is a play that I never would have written in quite the way I did without Denver." Yee said. "Wherever it goes, there is something embedded in its DNA what Denver is all about." Added Director Eric Ting: "What a gift to have two pre-eminent theatre companies working together to make this play happen."

    Actors Keiko Green and Linden Tailor say Seattle audiences, which are made up of many more Asian-Americans than in Denver, are reacting to the story very differently, specifically as it pertains to the American coach who spews comic racial epithets throughout.

    “In Seattle, the audiences are way tougher on the coach, absolutely,” Green said. “The race comments that he makes are definitely felt more. You can see people be slightly offended and then remember, ‘Oh yeah, this is written by a Chinese-American woman.’ ”

    That, said Tailor, “is the great thing about Lauren's writing. She wants to push the envelope and ride that fine line of making you uncomfortable and making you think. I feel like here in Seattle, we are more making them think.”

    Vásquez says the same is true of American Mariachi in San Diego. “It was a raucous comedy in Denver,” he said. “I think people are leaning in and really listening to the story a little closer here.”

    American Mariachi in San DiegoThat, to Seattle Rep’s Kristin Leahey, was the whole fun of The Great Leap. “It was a really exciting thing to be sharing this work with the Denver audience as well as the Seattle audience, and to see how it engages with each of them differently,” said Leahey.

    Making the money work

    DCPA Managing Director Charles Varin said the unusual creative arrangement of a co-pro calls for an unusual financial arrangement as well. As the instigating company, he said the Denver Center assumed the cost of producing each initial staging as it would for any other show on its season. But in the case of The Great Leap, Seattle Rep contributed about $40,000 toward the $350,000 budget and the Old Globe contributed about $75,000 of a $650,000 budget.

    Varin estimated that having a producing partner ultimately represented about a 10 percent improvement to the Denver Center’s bottom line. While that is significant, he said, it is not enough to be a motivating reason to enter into a co-pro. “This was all very much artistically motivated,” said Varin, who attended both out-of-town openings. “Having a second staging helps the playwright immensely, and I think both productions were measurably improved in their second cities.”

    Video spotlight: Our interview with José Cruz González

    A similar model of play development has been employed by the National New Play Network since 1998. That’s a group of 30 core companies that select a number of new plays each year to be fully staged by a minimum of three member companies successively. It’s called a “rolling world premiere,” and the script isn’t sealed and published until after the third staging. The major difference from a co-pro is that the chosen playwright works with completely different casts and creative teams in all three cities.

    LAUREN YEE QUOTESo what happens now?

    The extended initial birth journeys for both plays end soon — The Great Leap closes April 22 and American Mariachi on April 29. But both already have their immediate futures laid out for them: The Great Leap will be staged off-Broadway this June at The Atlantic Theatre starring Tony Award-winner BD Wong. It also will be staged by the prestigious Guthrie Theatre next January in Minneapolis. American Mariachi will be presented by the Arizona Theatre Company next March.

    American Mariachi resonates in myriad ways with the kaleidoscope of our community,” said Arizona Theatre Company Artistic Director David Ivers, a former longtime DCPA Theatre Company actor. “The writing, the gift of mariachi music, the celebration and empowerment of women, and the struggle of loss in the face of hope are powerful and meaningful messages to explore in the communities we have the honor of serving.”

    This all comes in a year when Denver Center-born works are proliferating on national stages like never before. Last year, Matthew Lopez’s The Legend of Georgia McBride became the Denver Center’s most-produced new Denver Center work since Quilters in 1982. Not only is it getting its own upcoming staging at The Guthrie, it is also being made into a film starring Jim Parsons. Last week, Lauren Gunderson’s The Book of Will won the American Theatre Critics Association’s Steinberg Award as the best new play of the year produced outside of New York. It opens this summer on one of the nation’s largest stages, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. 

    Read more: Denver Center's new place on national stage

    “I think all of that continues to advance the idea that the Denver Center is at the forefront of new-play development,” said Garrett. “As we are moving through the 21st century, one thing I lament about how we develop plays is that we all seem to be looking only for opportunities for playwrights to write something that is going to be a hit right now. There is a need for immediate success, as opposed to providing a space for something to unfold and be given life over time.”

    The benefit for actors  

    One of the ancillary windfalls that comes with any co-production benefits the actors themselves. The casts of both The Great Leap and American Mariachi were signed to four-month contracts. In a business where actors are most often signed to smaller contracts ranging from just four to eight weeks, an extended co-pro is about the best job they can get outside of a long run in New York.

    American Mariachi in San Diego. Photo by John Moore“I feel very lucky, and I think everyone else who is involved with this play feels very lucky to be a part of it,” said Plasencia.

    But the biggest benefit, says Rodney Lizcano and others, is the familia that takes shape when a creative team spends that much more time together. The American Mariachi team performs six days a week, he said. And yet, he said, they have almost to a person spent nearly every day off together as well.

    “There has been a consistently positive camaraderie since Day 1,” he said. “We share or lives both onstage and offstage — and I think the performances have deepened because of that.”

    Which makes ultimate benefit of a co-pro to the play itself and, by extension, to its expanded audiences.

    “I always had a feeling that this was going to be a very special play for everyone who saw it, and it has come to pass because it tells a story that audiences are hungry for at this very moment in our history,” Plasencia said of American Mariachi. “This is a story about inclusion and seeing yourself represented onstage, and I feel like a lot of people have been longing for a play like this. I think there is an audience this play in every big city in the country.”

    And in every audience is the potential for another life-changing moment, like that 12-year-old boy at the final dress rehearsal of American Mariachi in San Diego.

    “It is such an honor to walk out into that theatre lobby each night and see crowds of Latino families. That doesn't happen a lot,” Vásquez said. “Just tonight, a young Latino friend came up to me and said the moment the lights came up and the music started and he saw Mexican people onstage, he just started crying — because he had never seen anything like it.

    “I think that's the biggest takeaway.”

    John Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S. by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center’s Senior Arts Journalist.


    American Mariachi in San Diego. Photo by Douglas Gates
    'American Mariachi' in San Diego. Photo by Douglas Gates.


    Previous NewsCenter Coverage of American Mariachi:

    Behind the scenes video: Making the Great Wall of American Mariachi
    Tony Garcia: American Mariachi is an American beauty
    When Leonor Perez found mariachi, she found her true voice
    American Mariachi
    Perspectives: Music as a powerful memory trigger
    Photos, video: Your first look at American Mariachi
    American Mariachi
    's second community conversation: Food, music and tough issues
    Cast announced, and 5 things we learned at first rehearsal
    American Mariachi
    : Community conversation begins
    Summit Spotlight video: José Cruz González, American Mariachi
    2016 Summit: An infusion of invisible color and hidden voices
    Vast and visceral: 2017-18 Theatre Company season
    Denver Center taking new plays to new level in 2017-18

     

    The Great Leap in Seattle'The Great Leap' in Seattle. Photo by John Moore.

    Selected previous coverage of The Great Leap:
    The Great Leap prepares for its big bound to Seattle
    Lauren Yee: “This play would not exist without the Denver Center'
    Video: First look at The Great Leap, and five things we learned at Perspectives
    For The Great Leap playwright Lauren Yee, family is a generation map
    Five pieces of fun hoops history to know, like: What's a pick and roll?
    Five things we learned at first rehearsal, with photos
    Summit Spotlight: Lauren Yee lays it all on the free-throw line
    Vast and visceral: Theatre Company season will include The Great Leap

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

  • 'American Mariachi' sets students on a search for the recipe of their American Dreams

    by John Moore | Mar 13, 2018

    Video by DCPA Video Producer David Lenk and Senior Arts Journalist John Moore. 

    DCPA Education goes into schools to prepare students for themes expressed in plays such as American Mariachi


    By John Moore
    Senior Arts Journalist

    Each season, DCPA Education partners with the DCPA Theatre Company to develop classroom workshops that help prepare students to attend performances of the company’s plays. Last month, more than a dozen members of the American Mariachi cast and band participated in workshops at Annunciation and Bryant-Webster elementary schools, whose enrollments are primarily lower-income students of color.

    “We engage students in these pre-production workshops to develop themes that are explored in the play,” said DCPA Teaching Artist Andre' Rodriguez. "And for American Mariachi, the overarching theme keeps coming back to the American Dream."

    With help from several American Mariachi cast members and fellow DCPA Teaching Artists, Rodriguez challenged the middle-schoolers to identify not only what their own American Dreams are, but their real and perceived barriers to achieving those dreams. The results were telling. Dream jobs expressed included playing in a variety of professional sports, being a rapper or doctor. One wrote: “Keep playing mariachi,” while another’s goal, simply, is “to be alive.”

    American Mariachi Luis Quintero“A lot of the kids wrote down that one of the big barriers to achieving their dreams is not having support from their own family members,” said American Mariachi actor Luis Quintero (pictured with an Annunciation student, right). Other common impediments expressed by the children, mostly ages 9-13, included money and access to college. “My thoughts,” one student wrote simply. “They say I can’t do it,” another scribbled in brightly colored ink.  

    Quintero was joined in the workshops by castmates Natalie Camunas, Jennifer Paredes, Bobby Plasencia, Amanda Robles and Heather Velazquez, as well as Rodriguez and DCPA Teaching Artists Joelle Montoya and Chloe McLeod. Working in small groups, the students and actors created their own original mariachis and performed them for the rest of the class. One such example:

    “My health is bad because
    I keep second-guessing myself.
    Self-doubt holding me back
    .
    It’s time to bring my confidence back.”

    “One of the most powerful parts of this experience is that they got to engage directly with the actors in their own classrooms, and then the following day, they got to see them on onstage at the Denver Center,” Rodriguez said.

    (Story continues after the photo gallery below:)

    Photo gallery: American Mariachi in the classrooms

    Making of 'American Mariachi'To see more photos, click on the image above to be taken to our full Flickr gallery. Photos by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.

    The afternoon session at Bryant-Webster was special because it is one of the only schools in the state that has its own mariachi program and student band. To open the afternoon’s activities, the professional band from American Mariachi stood on the stage and played a song from the play for the approximately 100 students and staff gathered in the Bryant-Webster auditorium.

    “One of the student leaders approached me and said, ‘We would like to challenge the professional mariachi band to a duel,’ ” Rodriguez said. The student mariachi band then performed a song in return for the professional musicians. “It was a great show of community and celebration of tradition,” Rodriguez said.

    DCPA Director of Education Allison Watrous said programs such as the DCPA’s in-school workshops are a critical part of the process of introducing the theatre arts to unfamiliar students.

    American Mariachi spurs community conversations

    “We at the Denver Center know how important it is for students to experience theatre in their classroom — and first-hand,” Watrous said. “So we are excited to make that investment, and to partner with teachers and marry that with their curriculum. That is the heart of our work.”

    Natalie Camunas American Mariachi American Mariachi,
    which has ended its run in Denver but in two weeks will re-open at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego, follows the journey of a young woman named Lucha who has become the caretaker for a mother with dementia. When Lucha finds a mariachi record that briefly brings her mother back to life, she becomes determined to learn how to play this magical song for her before it is too late. Although being a female mariachi player was unheard of in the U.S. in the 1970s, Lucha assembles a group of friends who help make her dream come true.

    Quintero was certain these students would get a kick out of seeing a live representation of their culture on the stage, “and in a positive light, Camunas added. “In a way that makes women look strong and happy and brave.

    “It was really nice to be able to bring them to our show that fully represents them in all the beautiful complexities that it is to be Mexican-American, which I think has never been more important and necessary than it is in these times.”

    John Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S. by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center’s Senior Arts Journalist.


    Annunciation at American Mariachi
    The class from Annunciation at school (above), and, the next day, attending a performance of 'American Mariachi' by the DCPA Theatre Company. Photos by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter. 

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    Previous NewsCenter Coverage of American Mariachi:
    Behind the scenes video: Making the Great Wall of American Mariachi
    Tony Garcia: American Mariachi is an American beauty
    When Leonor Perez found mariachi, she found her true voice
    American Mariachi
    Perspectives: Music as a powerful memory trigger
    Photos, video: Your first look at American Mariachi
    American Mariachi
    's second community conversation: Food, music and tough issues
    Cast announced, and 5 things we learned at first rehearsal
    American Mariachi
    : Community conversation begins
    Summit Spotlight video: José Cruz González, American Mariachi
    2016 Summit: An infusion of invisible color and hidden voices
    Vast and visceral: 2017-18 Theatre Company season
    Denver Center taking new plays to new level in 2017-18

  • Look back: 2018 Colorado New Play Summit got real

    by John Moore | Feb 26, 2018
    2018 Colorado New Play Summit

    Our gallery of photos above includes nearly 300 images from the 2018 Colorado New Play Summit. To see more, click on the image above to be taken to our full gallery of photos Photos by Senior Arts Journalist John Moore and Adams Viscom.

    Readings explored contemporary social issues through the lens of real stories taken from the recent and distant past

    By John Moore
    Senior Arts Journalist

    Perhaps more so than ever, the Denver Center’s 13th annual Colorado New Play Summit explored complex contemporary social issues through the lens of real stories taken from both the recent and distant past.

    Summit 2018 The Space Shuttle Challenger explosion, a forgotten pre-Civil War slave trial and a horrible, headline-grabbing drunk-driving tragedy were among the real-life inspirations for the Summit’s four featured readings, all of which become instant candidates for consideration to be fully staged in the future.  

    The Colorado New Play Summit has grown into one of the nation’s premier showcases of new plays. Since 2006, the Summit has workshopped 54 new plays, leading to 31 fully produced world premieres as part of the DCPA Theatre Company’s mainstage season. At this year’s Summit, more than 800 attendees also were treated to a record three fully staged world premieres: American Mariachi, The Great Leap and Zoey’s Perfect Wedding.

    But history of another kind was made on Saturday when the topic of gender identity was addressed on a Denver Center stage for the first time in its nearly 40-year history, and it came from a most unexpected source. A teenage boy uttered the words, “Dad, I’m non-binary” in high-schooler Noah Jackson’s play Wine Colored Lip Gloss during public readings of DCPA Education’s three statewide student playwriting competition winners.

    “It means so much to me that the Denver Center allowed my story to be heard,” said Jackson, who attends Girls Athletic Leadership School. “I had someone come up to me in tears saying that my play touched her so much. I am just over the moon that people are actually feeling the words that I have worked so hard on.”  

    2018 Summit: A look at all four featured plays

    The 2018 Summit came as DCPA Theatre Company leadership continues to transition from Summit founder Kent Thompson to incoming Artistic Director Chris Coleman, who told the Friday night crowd the Summit was “a great calling card” for the job he is about to embrace. “A festival like this is impossible at a lot of theatres around the country,” he said. “But new-play development is creativity at its most pure. There is enormous joy and heartache in watching something come out of nothing. And I want to be a part of the future of this organization's voice around the country.”

    (Story continues below the video)

    Video: Our interviews with all four featured playwrights

    Press play to watch all four of our short spotlight videos.


    The four featured Summit readings at a glance
    :

    • A Summit Playwrights Social Barbara Seyda’s Celia, A Slave recalls a 19-year-old African-American slave in Missouri who was convicted of killing her master in 1855 and hanged.
    • Kemp Powers’ Christa McAuliffe’s Eyes Were Blue is the story of mixed-race twins who are genetically the same but to the entire outside world, one is perceived as black, and one is perceived as white.
    • David Jacobi’s The Couches takes its cue from the real-life story of a 16-year-old Texas boy who drove drunk and killed four people. His lawyer successfully argued the boy had “affluenza" — meaning he was too rich to know right from wrong.
    • Sigrid Gilmer's Mama Metallica is the story of a woman who copes with her mother's dementia through her muse: The heavy-metal band Metallica. "What makes you laugh will make you cry," she said.

    “This is a precious and fragile time in the life of these plays and that's because they are reflecting life which is also so fragile, as we have learned in these past couple of weeks,” said Theatre Company Associate Artistic Director Nataki Garrett,” referring to the Florida school shooting. “And that's why it’s so important to support new work and nurture it and fund it and produce it and give it to the world. That's our responsibility: To keep life moving forward. And I like to think of the Summit as the beginning of that.”

    (Pictured at right: From 'Celia, A Slave', from left: Jada Dixon, Owen Zitek, Director Nataki Garrett, Celeste M. Cooper.)

    Celia A Slave. Summit. Photo by John MooreThe Colorado New Play Summit allows for two weeks of development of each new play, culminating in a first round of public readings. Playwrights then take what they learn from their first readings back into rehearsal before more rehearsal and a second round of readings for industry professionals.

    This year’s Summit drew industry leaders from 33 local and national theatre organizations, with more than 150 directors, actors, artistic leaders, educators and others from 12 states attending or taking part. Visitors represented companies ranging from the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company in Washington D.C. to the Roundabout Theatre Company in New York. Closer to home, guests included the Arvada Center, Creede Repertory Theatre, Curious Theatre, The Catamounts, Athena Festival Project and others.

    There was another added twist at this year’s festival in that both American Mariachi and The Great Leap are the Theatre Company’s first co-productions in nearly 20 years — upon closing, both will set off for stagings at other theatres with their Denver creative teams intact.

    Lauren Yee’s The Great Leap is a Denver Center commission, meaning she was hired to write a play for the Theatre Company’s right of first refusal. She used her Asian-American father’s real-life goodwill basketball tour to China in the 1980s as the basis for exploring, among many other things, the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989. Her play was read at the 2017 Summit, premiered in January at the Denver Center and will re-open at the Seattle Repertory Theatre later in March.

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    “This play would not exist without the Denver Center,” Yee said. “Not just because it's a commission, but also because of the way that the Colorado New Play Summit launches you into national consciousness. This is an event that the whole new-play development world looks at every year for leadership and inspiration.”

    The Couches. Adams VisComJosé Cruz González’s American Mariachi was given a second full year to germinate before being fully staged. It was introduced at the 2016 Summit, then developed for two years before opening in January. The story of a pioneering young woman who forms an all-female mariachi band in a desperate attempt to use music to communicate with a mother falling into dementia struck a universal chord with Theatre Company audiences. It now moves to the Old Globe Theatre, which is Director James Vásquez’s artistic home, for a run in San Diego.  

    (Pictured: Tasha Lawrence and Cesar J. Rosado in 'The Couches.' Photo by Adams Viscom.)

    “The Denver Center has been so unbelievably supportive since the moment we got here,” Vásquez said. “It's been a dream. And I feel like the luckiest guy in the world that now I get to take the show home and share it with my family and friends in San Diego.”  

    Vásquez is particularly grateful the Summit coincided with the Denver run of American Mariachi, where it was seen by dozens of artistic leaders from around the country.

    “It's overwhelming and exciting to think of how many industry professionals saw our play here at the Summit,” said Vásquez. “We do this work so we can share it, and I want Jose's play to get out into the world. So if the other professionals want to take it, I say … ‘Go.’ ”

    One of those professionals is former longtime DCPA Theatre Company actor David Ivers, now the Artistic Director at the Arizona Theatre Company. He already has added American Mariachi to his season lineup for performance in March 2019.

    American Mariachi resonates in myriad ways with the kaleidoscope of our community,” Ivers said. “The writing, the gift of mariachi music, the celebration and empowerment of women, and the struggle of loss in the face of hope are powerful and meaningful messages to explore in the communities we have the honor of serving.”

    2018 Colorado New Play Summit Slam. Photo by John MooreThe Summit again included two late-night "Playwrights Slams," where writers sampled their developing works in a fun and supportive atmosphere. One focused on local playwrights and was curated this year by the Lighthouse Writers Workshop.

    (Pictured at right: Playwrights Slam reader Mfoniso Udofia. Others included José Cruz González, Ricardo A. Bracho, Denver native Max Posner and Luis Quintero. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.)

    The Summit also included a gathering of the Women's Voices Fund, the Denver Center’s $1.5 million endowment that supports new plays by women and female creative team members. Since 2006, the Denver Center has produced 33 plays by women, including 14 world premieres, commissioned 19 female playwrights and hired 28 female directors Supporters of the fund were treated to a private gathering with 2018 featured playwright Sigrid Gilmer (Mama Metallica.)   

    The Summit ended on the same day the Denver run of American Mariachi closed. But unlike most other shows, closing day in Denver was just the start for the San Diego-bound cast and crew.

    “We’re leaving Denver,” said actor Amanda Robles. “But it doesn't feel like the end.”

    John Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S. by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center’s Senior Arts Journalist.


    Christa McAuliffe's Eyes Were Blue
    From left: Cast members Tihun Hann, Celeste M. Cooper and Owen Zitek. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.)

    Selected NewsCenter coverage of the 2018 Colorado New Play Summit

    Summit Spotlight: Barbara Seyda's collision with voices of the dead
    Summit Spotlight: Kemp Powers on a matter that's black and white
    Summit Spotlight: David Jacobi on affluenza, the rich man's plague
    Summit Spotlight, Sigrid Gilmer: 'What makes you laugh will make you cry'
    Summit prep begins at the intersection of Eugene O'Neill and Metallica
    2018 Colorado New Play Summit selections announced
    Authentic voices: DCPA Education names 2018 student playwriting finalists

  • Behind the scenes video: The Great Wall of 'American Mariachi'

    by John Moore | Feb 21, 2018


    Jana 160In the video above, Jana Mitchell, Charge Scenic Artist for the DCPA Theatre Company (pictured right),  takes you backstage at the world-premiere play American Mariachi to explain how she and her team brought the massive 60-foot street mural imagined by Scenic Designer Regina Garcia to life.

    The enormous mural, designed as a kind of street-art collage, anchors playwright José Cruz González’s story of a young woman in the 1970s who becomes determined to form an all-female mariachi band in a desperate attempt to connect with a mother lost in her dementia.

    American Mariachi Wall. Photo by John MooreThe wall is made up of six separate pieces. Mitchell explains how her crew treated and distressed the mural so the wall doesn't have an inauthentic brand-new look.

    American Mariachi, a co-production with the Old Globe Theatre, moves directly to San Diego for performances there after it closes in Denver on Sunday, Feb. 25. The director is James Vásquez.

    Video by DCPA Video Producer David Lenk and Senior Arts Journalist John Moore. 

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter


    American Mariachi
    : Ticket information

    160x160-amercian-mariachi-tempAt a glance: Lucha and Boli are ready to start their own all-female mariachi band in 1970s’ Denver, but they’ll have to fight a male-dominated music genre and pressure from their families to get it done. This humorous, heartwarming story about music’s power to heal and connect includes gorgeous live mariachi music..

    • Presented by the DCPA Theatre Company
    • Performances through Feb. 25
    • Space Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex
    • Tickets start at $30
    • Call 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE
    • Sales to groups of 10 or more click here

    Previous NewsCenter Coverage of American Mariachi:
    Tony Garcia: American Mariachi is an American beauty
    When Leonor Perez found mariachi, she found her true voice
    American Mariachi
    Perspectives: Music as a powerful memory trigger
    Photos, video: Your first look at American Mariachi
    American Mariachi
    's second community conversation: Food, music and tough issues
    Cast announced, and 5 things we learned at first rehearsal
    American Mariachi
    : Community conversation begins
    Summit Spotlight video: José Cruz González, American Mariachi
    2016 Summit: An infusion of invisible color and hidden voices
    Vast and visceral: 2017-18 Theatre Company season
    Denver Center taking new plays to new level in 2017-18

    American Mariachi Wall. Photo by John Moore

    Photos showing the making of the 60-foot wall and turning it into a mural. Photos by John Moore and Adams VisCom for the DCPA NewsCenter.

    American Mariachi Wall. Photo by John Moore

    amanda-robles-photo-by-adamsviscom

    Photo above of actor Amanda Robles by Adams VisCom.

  • Tony Garcia: ‘American Mariachi' is an American beauty

    by John Moore | Feb 15, 2018
    American Mariachi jennifer-parades-doreen-montalvo-photo-by-adamsviscom_26117323378_o
    In the essay below, Su Teatro Executive Artistic Director Tony Garcia offers his reactions to seeing the DCPA Theatre Company's world-premiere production of 'American Mariachi.' Pictured are Jennifer Parades and Doreen Montalvo. Photo by Adams VisCom.


    From his new play's very title, José Cruz González challenges us to examine what we consider to be 'American'

    By Tony Garcia
    For the DCPA NewsCenter

    Chicano and Latino art often struggles to cross over into the mainstream, in large part because the dominant culture can’t understand — and in some cases, even fears — the “otherness” of the language, the culture and the traditions at play. If a story is too authentic, then it runs the risk of being exotic, different or perhaps even threatening. But if a play makes too much accommodation to include audiences outside the culture, it runs the risk of being criticized by those in our own community who view Chicano and Latino artistic endeavors with ultra-sensitivity, and often hold them to a higher standard.

    Luis Valdez, the father of Chicano theatre, explained the paradox of the contemporary Chicano experience in Los Vendidos (The Sellouts) by having a character say: “Wait a minute, you want something Mexican … but American?” 

    a jose-cruz-gonzalez-webJosé Cruz González’s American Mariachi, a play now having its world premiere at the Denver Center, is straightforward in portraying Mexicans as normal, and mariachi as an honored tradition. And the play is familiar enough to be accessible to a crossover audience. (Pictured at right: José Cruz González.)

    American Mariachi is profound in its title, which challenges us to look at our definitions of both words. And it challenges us to examine what we consider to be American. Is it American to be mariachi? Or can mariachi be American? The answer to both questions is yes. González’s title tells us that mariachi music, often portrayed as a novelty form with its bawdy costumes, its loud instruments clashing with disinterested voices and crashing dishes in overcrowded restaurants, is part of what we call “American.” And it’s not up for debate. González proceeds to treat that conversation as a settled matter.

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    Although the play is set in the U.S., the location is never a factor in the story. The characters speak Spanish and English. They work, love their families and have dreams. They do not talk about their immigrant experience or border crossings. They do not talk about gang life, prison sentences or drug use. The characters are “normal.” And that is one of the greatest beauties of American Mariachi: The profound yet simple and true assumption that we are normal — in contrast to the contemporary political landscape, where we are portrayed as anything but normal. There is tremendous power in that.

    The playwright also makes no accommodation for a monocultural audience. He interweaves Spanish and English, often without translation. Some of the biggest punchlines in the play are told only in Spanish. We are also not given a European-American character to serve as our guide through this very Mexican journey. There are no translators or sympathetic allies waiting to sweep in and save us. The play is offered from a very entre nosotros perspective. This is as if to say: “This is our family, complete with joy and pain. You are invited in to view and share. We understand that we are not perfect — can you?”

    AM 800 bobby-plascencia-and-the-company-of-american-mariachi-photo-by-adamsviscom_39989603211_oWe are also passionate people, and our passion for mariachi is deep. It is steeped in tradition. Mariachi music is cross-generational with parents judiciously teaching their children its value. Mariachis pass the music through their families with some of the greatest mariachis being the product of multi-generational descendants of master musicians. Luthiers (guitar- and violin-makers) design, build and repair instruments for specific musicians. These instruments are also passed down from generations to generation, and American Mariachi celebrates this tradition. The play describes the role of each instrument. It talks about the sacredness of each aspect of the mariachi experience including the traje — the traditional costume — a vestige of the horse culture of Guadalajara. We are immersed in a respect for the music and the form. Welcome to Mariachi 101.

    (Pictured at right: Bobby Plascencia, center, and the company of 'American Mariachi.' Photo by Adams Viscom.)

    The core of American Mariachi is its heart. This is a play about family and intense love. And like any good bolero, it carries with it that aching moment of hubris that will scar the family for years to come. Its humanness and accompanying weakness invoke elements of a Greek tragedy, and it is that diametrical opposite human trait — forgiveness — that allows us to reconcile the two forces that eventually will heal us.

    I attended Opening Night of the Denver Center’s American Mariachi. At the climactic moment of the story, I heard sniffling in the crowded theater. That reminded me of a performance by El Teatro Campesino of La Carpa de los Rasquachis more than 4o years ago at the sad moment when Rasquachi realizes — like the iconic Willie Loman in Death of a Salesman — that his life given to toil and sacrifice has led to ultimate failure. The American Dream has become his nightmare. Upon Rasquachi’s inevitable death, the sniffles began. I looked around then, expecting to see all the soft-hearted Latinas in the audience with hankies to their eyes. And they were. But my older muy macho peers were also wiping tears from under their sunglasses.

    At a similar moment in American Mariachi, there was a symphony of sniffles. But as I looked around the emotional Stage Theatre, what struck me was the number of white males who were wiping their eyes under their bifocals this time.

    Both experiences revealed to me the power of theatre.

    Tony Garcia 160Tony Garcia is the Executive Artistic Director of El Centro Su Teatro since 1989 and has been a company member since 1972. He received his BA in Theatre from the University of Colorado Denver. He won a 2006 United States Artists Fellowship, was named The Denver Post’s 2010 Theatre Person of the Year and received the prestigious Livingston Fellowship from the Bonfils Stanton Foundation. He is also an adjunct professor at Metro State College in Denver.

    American Mariachi: Ticket information

    160x160-amercian-mariachi-tempAt a glance: Lucha and Boli are ready to start their own all-female mariachi band in 1970s’ Denver, but they’ll have to fight a male-dominated music genre and pressure from their families to get it done. This humorous, heartwarming story about music’s power to heal and connect includes gorgeous live mariachi music.

    • Presented by the DCPA Theatre Company
    • Performances through Feb. 25
    • Space Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex
    • Tickets start at $30
    • Call 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE
    • Sales to groups of 10 or more click here

    Previous NewsCenter Coverage of American Mariachi:
    When Leonor Perez found mariachi, she found her true voice
    American Mariachi
    Perspectives: Music as a powerful memory trigger
    Photos, video: Your first look at American Mariachi
    American Mariachi
    's second community conversation: Food, music and tough issues
    Cast announced, and 5 things we learned at first rehearsal
    American Mariachi
    : Community conversation begins
    Summit Spotlight video: José Cruz González, American Mariachi
    2016 Summit: An infusion of invisible color and hidden voices
    Vast and visceral: 2017-18 Theatre Company season
    Denver Center taking new plays to new level in 2017-18

  • When Leonor Perez found mariachi, she found her voice

    by John Moore | Feb 09, 2018

    Video: Dr. Leonor Xochitl Perez curated the lobby exhibit on "The Trailblazing Women of Mariachi Music" in conjunction with the DCPA Theatre Company's 'American Mariachi,' playing through Feb. 25 before moving to the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego. Video by DCPA Video Producer David Lenk and Senior Arts Journalist John Moore. 


    Pioneering female mariachi was taught to keep her voice down, until she found the music that invited her to scream

    By John Moore
    Senior Arts Journalist

    Today, Dr. Leonor Xochitl Perez holds a PhD in Education from UCLA and a master’s degree in human development and psychology from Harvard. Which would be enough for most people.

    But Perez has lived an entirely additional accomplished life as the leading proponent and preservationist of women's mariachi history in two countries.

    Back in 1973, young Perez was just an unassuming wisp of a girl who took up mariachi music at her junior high school in East Los Angeles, little realizing that by joining one of the first youth mariachi groups in the country, she would soon be breaking decades-old barriers in a predominantly macho musical culture.

    American Mariachi quote“Back then, we were at the beginning of a time where we were reclaiming our right to hang on to our culture and our heritage,” Perez said at opening festivities for the DCPA Theatre Company’s world-premiere play with music American Mariachi, by José Cruz González.

    “I walked into a mariachi class for the first time as a girl who was not allowed to embrace her culture,” said Perez , who went on to an accomplished career in higher education. “My parents were more concerned about upward mobility and assimilation. But when the guitarrón, which is the big bass instrument, started playing, I could feel vibrations of that sound throughout my body. And it was reaching somewhere deeper than that moment and that sound.

    "I know that when I heard that music, I was reaching somewhere further back in time.”

    Perez went on to perform at two Presidential Inaugural Balls — one at 19 years old — and at the Hollywood Bowl.

    (Fast-forward through many years of raising a family and astonishing success in higher education here.)

    Perez decided to return to the arts in 2012 to become Artistic Projects Manager for the San Diego Symphony. She went on to found Mariachi Women, an organization that exists to recognize and empower mariachi women throughout the world, primarily through staging large women’s mariachi festivals throughout the world.

    For the Denver Center's production of American Mariachi, Perez has curated a massive lobby exhibit outside the Stage Theatre called The Trailblazing Women of Mariachi Music.

    "It's very exciting that Denver is the first venue to offer this play," she said, "and it’s actually a beautiful thing because Denver has an important place in Mexican-American history. In March of 1969, the first-ever convening of Mexican-American students happened right here in Denver. More than 1,500 Latino youth came from all over the country and they redefined their ethnic identity as Chicanos. Many of them went on to  become activists and important people nationally and internationally. So I'd say it's no coincidence that this play is starting here in Denver."

    (Story continues below the photo.)

    American Mariachi. Photo by Adams VisCom
    The company of 'American Mariachi.' Photo by Adams VisCom

    American Mariachi
    , set in the 1970s American southwest, follows a young woman named Lucha who becomes determined to learn how to play mariachi music as a way of keeping her mother from slipping further into her dementia. This at a time when being a female mariachi player was unheard of in the United States. And that fictional character’s story is, in some ways, Perez’s story as well.  

    "I'm so honored now, so many years later, to be able to tell the story of voices that have never been heard,” Perez said of her exhibit, which includes tales of pioneering women and includes actual suits worn by mariachi women at different times and places.

    Asked what the Leonor Perez of 2018 might say to the Leonor Perez of 1973, she said with a smile: "I would tell that little girl to hang in there, because there's going to be a very important place for the telling of this story — and that that little girl will be the person telling this story.”

    Here’s more of our conversation with Dr. Perez:

    John Moore: When did you start to become interested in researching women in mariachi?

    Leonor Xochitl Perez: While I was a graduate student at UCLA and I was learning research skills, I began to ask the question: ‘When exactly did women start playing mariachi music as instrumentalists? Not as singers, but as instrumentalists?" So I applied my academic and research skills into the idea of discovering the answer to that question.

    John Moore: How did you get started playing mariachi in the first place?

    Leonor Xochitl Perez: In 1973, there were various forces that came together to promote the idea of providing Mexican music in the U.S. schools. That included the 1968 Bilingual Education Act. There was the Chicano civil-rights movement. The study of ethnic music and Chicano studies were emerging in universities. All of this was happening at the same time. For me, playing mariachi music at my school was somewhat of a lonely experience because some kids played it as an extracurricular activity, but I continued to play this music throughout my entire life.

    John Moore: How did you become a leading mariachi researcher with everything else that was happening in your life?

    Mariachi community conversation: Food, music, issues

    Leonor Xochitl Perez: Regardless of my degrees, or the family life, or where I moved, I was always playing mariachi music.

    John Moore: Tell us how your life intersects with the story of the play.

    Leonor Xochitl Perez: The play shows the struggles that women have had to endure in order to play this music, because it is a male-dominated genre — and I had some of those challenges as well. As a young girl growing up in East Los Angeles, I was expected to live out the life of a traditional Latina young woman, and that meant being domestic and looking forward to motherhood and being a wife. That meant being demure and being quiet. All of those things are good, but I felt like there was so much more for me in life. So when I found mariachi music, I was able to express myself in ways that were not allowed in my community. For example, in mariachi music, we give out an expressive yell during the performance of this music. At home, I was told to be quiet, to watch my words, to keep my voice down, to not ask so many questions. But when I was in mariachi music, whenever I felt it, I'd let a grito — a yell — come out, just to show my love for the music, whether it's a romantic bolero or a traditional son.

    John Moore: We don't necessarily think of the arts, in many cultures, as patriarchal. Why was it so unheard of that a woman should play this music in the 1970s?

    40049100881_5ecae8ed49_zLeonor Xochitl Perez: Well, it's interesting, because mariachi music originates in the rural areas of Mexico. The ranchers would play mariachi music. Women would stay home. The ranchers were the ones who would work, and then go and relax at the bars after that. Some of them would play the music of the ranch. During the Mexican Revolution, there was this cultural renaissance where they had to rethink what the cultural identity of Mexico was going to be. So because it was very much focused on the people, and particularly more of the general population in Mexico, they brought forth a lot of the traditional and cultural practices of the country, and that included mariachi music. They brought it forth as a cultural symbol of national identity post-Mexican Revolution. And because it was male and for the males in the ranches, it just remained that way. It was the offering of this music in the school systems in the United States that actually opened the doors for women to begin to play this music in large numbers.

    John Moore: How did being part of one of the very first school programs that allowed girls to play mariachi empower you?

    Leonor Xochitl Perez: I was raised in a classical music program. I was first chair in the school orchestra, and we were expected to play delicately and blend in. But when I played mariachi music, I'd use my bow arm, and I'd grind into the strings right short of screeching with the intention to project that sound and to express its vibrancy. That's something I wasn't physically allowed to do in any other space when I was growing up. Also, in mariachi music, I was able to go places I wasn't allowed to go. As a young Latina in a traditional family, we had to stay near home. But with a mariachi group, I was able to travel to different places — not just across the city or across the state. Across the country. Eventually, I got an internship in Washington D.C. after high school.

    John Moore: What did you think when you heard that Jose Cruz Gonzalez had written American Mariachi, and that the Denver Center, one of the largest performing-arts organizations in the country, was going to be presenting this story on its largest stage?

    Leonor Xochitl Perez: I was so thrilled to hear that finally the story and the challenges of women in mariachi will begin to be told on a mainstream level. But I was even more excited to hear that I was going to be given the opportunity to curate this lobby exhibit — because the truth is that women have been engaged in the mariachi music for more than 100 years. The play is a great start, because it talks about women in the U.S. coming together in a male-dominated field. But women have been in mariachi music since 1903 in Mexico.

    John Moore: What about in the United States?

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    Leonor Xochitl Perez: I found a group that started playing in 1967 in Alamo, Texas. And what's really special about them is not only that they played in Alamo, but they were recruited to go entertain the troops in Vietnam. So they did their civic duty and traveled very far to continue the tradition of mariachi at the same time.

    John Moore: Give us an overview of what your display covers.

    A American Mariachi Lobby Display Leonor Perez 400 Photo by John MooreLeonor Xochitl Perez: The exhibit is a brief chronology of the 100 years of women in mariachi music. It focuses, specifically, from 1903 to the mid-'70s, when the play begins. It focuses on vintage photographs of the all-female groups that started from 1948 to 1953. There is also a really beautiful display of the uniforms they used back then. I have original suits from some of the groups that started back in the '60s and '70s. We don’t cover it here, but contemporary women are also making big strides and achieving quite a bit in the field of male mariachi music. For example, Mariachi Divas have been nominated for a Grammy eight times. They're the only mariachi group that has ever received two American Grammys — so they have beaten the men.

    John Moore: I want to know about Rosa, the gun-toting mariachi player you have pictured on the wall.

    Leonor Xochitl Perez: So Rosa Quirino started playing mariachi music in 1903 as a 13-year-old. And she loved it so much that eventually, she led a predominantly male group. She was the only female, and she was the director of that group. But it was a rough environment for a woman, so she needed to carry a gun to protect herself. And, apparently, she had no reservations about using it when she needed to.

    John Moore: How did you meet playwright José Cruz González and Music Director Cynthia Reifler Flores?

    Leonor Xochitl Perez: I give presentations on the history of women in mariachi music wherever I'm invited. I've been all over the world, actually. I've been to Kazakhstan and to Ireland talking about women in mariachi. I first met José on March 11, 2015, when I was provided the opportunity to go to California State University Los Angeles, where he teaches, and he came and heard my talk. Also in the audience was Cindy, who I already knew because she has been actively a participant in the mariachi field since the 1980s. I knew her as a musician in Mariachi Reyna de Los Angeles, so I was very aware of her contributions to mariachi music in Los Angeles. That was the intersection. It's just an honor for all of us who really are very passionate about this music that all of us can work together on this.

    John Moore: What are your thoughts on the play? This is a very specific story about one family in the 1970s. So tell us how this is a story for all audiences.

    Leonor Xochitl Perez: We have a population that's aging right now, and we're all going to have to address issues like dementia in our families. In that context, I think American Mariachi tells a story that's general to the public at large. It tells the relationship between a daughter and an aging mother. One of the lines in the play is "music is memory." And in this case, the music was the memory that became the glue that held them together. I think that's very important. And I think it's going to be relevant to many of us who are engaged in caring for our aging parents.

    John Moore: And, finally, this play is going to go straight from Denver to San Diego to be seen by audiences there. What does it mean to you that this is just the start of this play's journey?

    Leonor Xochitl Perez: I think that as the Latino population grows, we have to reassess the cultural content that we put out nationally. And I think that Denver taking the step to honor this story and by showing it and investing in it, is really a tremendous step in demonstrating to the nation at large the importance of reaching this growing population. We have major contributions that we make in this country, and very few people know about that. But I think we become stronger as a nation when we reflect our diversity in our art. So I think it's very important.

    John Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S. by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center’s Senior Arts Journalist.

    American Mariachi: Ticket information

    160x160-amercian-mariachi-tempAt a glance: Lucha and Boli are ready to start their own all-female mariachi band in 1970s’ Denver, but they’ll have to fight a male-dominated music genre and pressure from their families to get it done. This humorous, heartwarming story about music’s power to heal and connect includes gorgeous live mariachi music..

    • Presented by the DCPA Theatre Company
    • Performances through Feb. 25
    • Space Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex
    • Tickets start at $30
    • Call 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE
    • Sales to groups of 10 or more click here

    Previous NewsCenter Coverage of American Mariachi:
    When Leonor Perez found mariachi, she found her true voice
    American Mariachi
    Perspectives: Music as a powerful memory trigger
    Photos, video: Your first look at American Mariachi
    American Mariachi
    's second community conversation: Food, music and tough issues
    Cast announced, and 5 things we learned at first rehearsal
    American Mariachi
    : Community conversation begins
    Summit Spotlight video: José Cruz González, American Mariachi
    2016 Summit: An infusion of invisible color and hidden voices
    Vast and visceral: 2017-18 Theatre Company season
    Denver Center taking new plays to new level in 2017-18

    American Mariachi Lobby Display Leonor Perez. Photo by John MooreDr. Leonor Xochitl Perez. Photo by John Moore.
  • Photos: First look at 'The Great Leap,' Opening Night of 'American Mariachi'

    by John Moore | Feb 09, 2018
    Production photos: Your first look at The Great Leap:


    The Great Leap Photos from 'The Great Leap,' opening Friday (tonight) and performing through March 11 in the Ricketson Theatre. To see more photos, click on the image above to be taken to our full gallery. Photos by Adams VisCom.  

    The Great Leap: Ticket information
    GreatLeap_show_thumbnail_160x160When an American college basketball team travels to Beijing for an exhibition game in 1989, the drama on the court goes deeper than the strain between their countries. For two men with a past and one teen with a future, it’s a chance to stake their moment in history and claim personal victories off the scoreboard. American coach Saul grapples with his relevance to the sport, while Chinese coach Wen Chang must decide his role in his rapidly changing country. Tensions rise right up to the final buzzer as history collides with the action on the court.

    • Presented by the DCPA Theatre Company
    • Performances Through March 11
    • Ricketson Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex
    • Tickets start at $30
    • Call 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE
    • Sales to groups of 10 or more click here


    Photos: Opening night of American Mariachi:

    Making of 'American Mariachi'

    Photos from opening night of the DCPA Theatre Company's world premiere of 'American Mariachi,' performing in the Stage Theatre through Feb. 25. To see more, click on the image above to be taken to our full gallery of photos. Photos by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.

    American Mariachi: Ticket information

    160x160-amercian-mariachi-tempAt a glance: Lucha and Boli are ready to start their own all-female mariachi band in 1970s Denver, but they’ll have to fight a male-dominated music genre and pressure from their families to get it done. This humorous, heartwarming story about music’s power to heal and connect includes gorgeous live mariachi music..

    • Presented by the DCPA Theatre Company
    • Performances through Feb. 25
    • Space Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex
    • Tickets start at $30
    • Call 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE
    • Sales to groups of 10 or more click here

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

  • 'American Mariachi' Perspectives: Music as a powerful memory trigger

    by John Moore | Feb 02, 2018
    Making of 'American Mariachi'

    Photos from the making of 'American Mariachi.' The world-premiere play with music performs in the Stage Theatre from through Feb 25. Photo above from the public Perspectives conversation hosted by Douglas Langworthy. From left: Playwright José Cruz González, director James Vásquez and Scenic Director Regina Garcia. To see more photos, click on the image above to be taken to our full gallery. Photos by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.


    Director James Vásquez says it’s a good story — 'and the best party you'll come to this winter in Denver.'

    By John Moore
    Senior Arts Journalist

    The DCPA Theatre Company’s world-premiere play American Mariachi, opening tonight in The Stage Theatre, is a memory play. But not in the way Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie is considered a memory play — where a character looks back (often unreliably) on a story that took place many years before.

    American Mariachi is literally a play about memory. And music has long been proven to be one of the brain’s biggest triggers for memory.  

    “The play is inspired by a story I was told about an older woman who was suffering from Alzheimer's,” playwright José Cruz González told about 100 who gathered last week before the first preview performance of American Mariachi. “But when her family played this woman’s favorite song, she just lit up. I thought that was fascinating, and I soon realized this is such a common thing that affects all of us around the world.”

    American Mariachi, set in the 1970s American southwest, follows a young woman named Lucha who is caring for a mother with dementia. When Lucha finds a mariachi record that briefly brings her mother back to life, she becomes determined to learn how to play the song for her live, before it is too late. But this was a time when being a female mariachi player was unheard of in the United States.

    Here are five things we learned at Perspectives, a series of free public community conversations  held just before the first preview performance of every DCPA Theatre Company offering. Next up: The Great Leap at 6 p.m. Friday, Feb. 2, in the Jones Theatre.

    NUMBER 1The rhythm is gonna get you. Often when you attend a play, or even a musical, the audience is expected to politely sit back on their hands. That will not be the case here. Mariachi music has always encouraged cathartic, joyous yells from anyone within earshot. “We had an invited audience at our final dress rehearsal, and as soon as the music started paying, gritos were thrown from the audience, and we encourage that,” director James Vásquez said. “You can't help but want to get up and holler and clap and sing if you know the words.” The American Mariachi band also played at the beginning of a community conversation two weeks ago, “and it turned into a party,” Vásquez said. “That's how I like to think of our play: It’s a good story — but and it's also the best party you'll come to this winter in Denver.”

    Mariachi community conversation: Food, music, issues

    NUMBER 2 American Mariachi Perspectives  Amanda RoblesSchool of mariachi. This production is made up of nine actors and five professional mariachis — and the actors all learned to play instruments along the way. Crissy Guerrero, for example, learned to play the vihuela, a guitar-like instrument from 19th-century Mexico with five strings (no E) and a vaulted back. The Mexican vihuela is tuned similarly to the guitar. The difference is that the open G, the D and the A strings are tuned an octave higher than a guitar, thus giving it a tenor sound or a higher pitch. Amanda Robles, a professional singer, learned how to play the trumpet from scratch — which González called fitting for this show, because his characters are also learning to play from scratch. Robles was surprised by how different she found singing mariachi to be, compared to traditional musical theatre. “In a typical musical, you are always thinking about singing higher,” she said, “whereas mariachi is more guttural. You need to double down and really sing your heart out.” (Pictured above, from left: Costume Designer Meghan Anderson Doyle, actor Crissy Guerrero and actor Amanda Robles.) 

    NUMBER 3The train has left the station. The American Mariachi that opens tonight is a full hour shorter than the version that was read at the 2016 Colorado New Play Summit. It moves. “Jose has been able to really compact the story and the heart of the story,” said Guerrero, who was an original cast member. “A lot of painful decisions were made to cut things, I am sure. But we have always wanted to stay focused on the story we are telling.” 


    amanda-robles-photo-by-adamsviscom

    Photo of the 'American Mariachi' mural designed by Regina Garcia. Pictured: Amanda Robles. Photo by Adams VisCom.

    NUMBER 4 Plaza sweet. The action in American Mariachi takes place in multiple locations, so Scenic Designer Regina Garcia created a world that takes you inside a single home that grows into a community plaza with towers of residential windows and a stunning 60-foot brick mural. “In the spirit of collage, I decided to celebrate the Mexican arts in general with the mural, and that includes dance, cinema, spoken word, poetry, playwriting, civic leadership and community,” said Garcia. When González and Vásquez first arrived in Denver, they were taken into the DCPA scene shop where the mural was being created, “and we burst out crying, it was so gorgeous,” González said.

    NUMBER 5 Why is the play set in the 1970s? Because the stakes were higher. “That was when women really started to push for their right to play this music here in the United States,” González said. "Here these women are trying to push open a door that has been closed to them. And this music has been closed to them. It's been passed from father to son, not father to daughter. I felt it was the right time to tell a story about the empowerment of these Latinas." 

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    Bonus: What is the derivation of the word mariachi? It's a bit of a mystery, but it is thought to date back to the French invasion of Mexico in 1861. “It was thought that the word was connected to the French word mariage (or marriage),” Dramaturg Shirley Fishman said. Some say that’s because the Europe-born Emperor Maximilian of Mexico encouraged the music to be played at weddings. González’s theory dates back to the Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés in the 1590s: "When Cortes arrived in the New World, his soldiers brought guitars, while the native people here played drums and flutes," said González. “And soon a new kind of music evolved. You can hear the African, the native and the Spanish influences in the rhythms of mariachi." Today the word mariachi can refer to a single player, a group, or the music itself.

    John Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S. by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center’s Senior Arts Journalist.

    American Mariachi: Ticket information

    160x160-amercian-mariachi-tempAt a glance: Lucha and Boli are ready to start their own all-female mariachi band in 1970s’ Denver, but they’ll have to fight a male-dominated music genre and pressure from their families to get it done. This humorous, heartwarming story about music’s power to heal and connect includes gorgeous live mariachi music..

    • Presented by the DCPA Theatre Company
    • Performances through Feb. 25
    • Space Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex
    • Tickets start at $30
    • Call 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE
    • Sales to groups of 10 or more click here

    Previous NewsCenter Coverage of American Mariachi:
    Photos, video: Your first look at American Mariachi
    American Mariachi
    's second community conversation: Food, music and tough issues
    Cast announced, and 5 things we learned at first rehearsal
    American Mariachi
    : Community conversation begins
    Summit Spotlight video: José Cruz González, American Mariachi
    2016 Summit: An infusion of invisible color and hidden voices
    Vast and visceral: 2017-18 Theatre Company season
    Denver Center taking new plays to new level in 2017-18

  • Video, photos: Your first look at 'American Mariachi'

    by John Moore | Jan 30, 2018
     

    Opening night is this Friday in the Stage Theatre

    Your first look at the DCPA Theatre Company's American Mariachi, José Cruz González’s story of a young woman in the 1970s who becomes determined to form an all-female mariachi band in a desperate attempt to connect with a mother lost in her dementia. The play, a co-production with the Old Globe Theatre, opens Friday (Feb. 2) and moves directly to San Diego for performances there after it closes in Denver on Feb. 25. The director is James Vásquez. Video by DCPA Video Producer David Lenk. 


    Production photos:

    American Mariachi

    Click the image above to be taken to our full gallery of more than 30 production photos. Photos by Adams VisCom for the DCPA NewsCenter.

    American Mariachi: Ticket information

    160x160-amercian-mariachi-tempAt a glance: Lucha and Boli are ready to start their own all-female mariachi band in 1970s Denver, but they’ll have to fight a male-dominated music genre and pressure from their families to get it done. This humorous, heartwarming story about music’s power to heal and connect includes gorgeous live mariachi music..

    • Presented by the DCPA Theatre Company
    • Performances Jan. 26 through Feb. 25
    • Space Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex
    • Tickets start at $30
    • Call 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE
    • Sales to groups of 10 or more click here

    Previous NewsCenter Coverage of American Mariachi:
    American Mariachi's second community conversation: Food, music and tough issues
    Cast announced, and 5 things we learned at first rehearsal
    American Mariachi
    : Community conversation begins
    Summit Spotlight video: José Cruz González, American Mariachi
    2016 Summit: An infusion of invisible color and hidden voices
    Vast and visceral: 2017-18 Theatre Company season
    Denver Center taking new plays to new level in 2017-18

    amanda-robles-photo-by-adamsviscom_26117318568_o 800Amanda Robles of 'American Mariachi.' Photo by Adams Viscom.
  • 'American Mariachi' community conversation: Food, music and tough issues

    by John Moore | Jan 18, 2018
    Making of 'American Mariachi'

    Local performers Deborah Gallegos and Yolanda Ortega of Su Teatro at the DCPA's 'recent American Mariachi' community conversation. To see more photos, click the image above to be taken to a full gallery. Photos by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.


    'We've got some work to do,' DCPA tells Latinx community at forum addressing both barriers and opportunities

    By John Moore
    Senior Ats Journalist

    The DCPA hosted one its largest community conversations on record Jan. 11, when about 100 local Latinx and others gathered to talk about the many possibilities and challenges afforded by the Theatre Company's upcoming world premiere of the musical play American Mariachi.  

    And several admitted they came looking for a fight. One was Reynaldo Mireles, program manager of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center of Colorado.

    “My first thought when I received the invitation was that I want to go down there and fight with some gringos,” Mirelis said to laughter. “I thought, ‘Well, I never got an invitation from the DCPA to have a conversation about us being Latinos before,’ so I was really coming in with that fighting energy.”  

    But he quickly softened after arriving at the DCPA’s Newman Center for Theatre Education. And for two reasons, he said: “There was cena … and there was musica.”

    Dinner and music.

    Cynthia Reifler Flores. American Mariachi Photo by John MooreThe latter was a rousing, 30-minute performance by the American Mariachi house band led by Cynthia Reifler Flores (pictured right), described by director James Vásquez as “one of the leading female mariachis in the world.” The musical demonstration, led by Flores' singing, moved legendary, five-decade Su Teatro actor Yolanda Ortega to spontaneously tell Flores: “You sing with your heart and with every little fiber in your body. I'm your new groupie.”

    Attendees represented a wide range of metro cultural, business and civic groups including the Mexican Cultural Center, Telemundo Denver, Mi Casa Resource Center, Museo de las Americas, The GrowHaus and the Denver mayor’s office, along with individual artists, teachers and students. Also representing was the entire cast of American Mariachi, José Cruz González’s story of a young woman in the 1970s who becomes determined to form an all-female mariachi band in a desperate attempt to connect with a mother lost in her dementia. The play, a co-production with the Old Globe Theatre, moves directly to San Diego for performances there after it closes in Denver on Feb. 25.

    Others admitted to their cynicism as well. But after 90 minutes of blunt and constructive conversation about the sustainability of the DCPA’s aggressive commitment to communities of color both during and after American Mariachi, any opening clenched fists changed to handshakes.

    “We are here to support you, and I am really excited about bringing more GLBT from our community to the play,” Mireles said at the end of the evening. “And of course, our ninas, because I am wanting them to see what they could actually become one day.”

    How did Mireles and others move so far in such a short period of time? In part because DCPA Director of Strategic Projects FloraJane DiRienzo came clean.

    “We’ve got some work to do,” DiRienzo said flatly. Not so much onstage: The Theatre Company has in recent years staged three world premieres by González as well as new works by Karen Zacarias, Octavio Solis, Rogelio Martinez and other Latinx playwrights.

    “We have always had a longstanding commitment to diverse voices on stage," she added. "But in some ways that has fallen a little bit short because we have make sure that our audiences are just as diverse as those voices that are onstage

    Suggestions from the community included making sure bilingual employees are positioned at the front door of the Helen Bonfils Theatre Complex to welcome all first-time patrons who need help finding their way around. Others hope that translated supertitles like you see at the opera are made available for non-English-speaking audiences. Others wondered if a performance or two might be presented entirely in Spanish. The director and his cast committed to both exploring those possibilities, and to making personal appearances at any local school that asks them.

    The primary, systemic barriers to attendance at major arts venues by communities of color are not unique to Denver: The price barrier, getting the word out to the people who might be most invested in a given story, and the cost and general intimidation of downtown parking.

    One of the most moving testaments to that reality came from Bianca Acosta, a young, single mother who is working to becoming a teacher at Bryant-Webster, a dual language Denver Public School that happens to house Mariachi Juvenil de Bryant Webster — the first after-school elementary mariachi group in the DPS system. She said:

    “I was not going to come tonight because my grandfather passed last night in Mexico. The last time I came here, I got lost for almost an hour looking for this  building because I am not familiar with driving downtown. And if I pay $10 for parking — that's my budget for gas for an entire week. Those are real things. Denver is such a beautiful city, and I am so in love with it, but it's expensive. But I am here to represent my community.

    “When I first heard this play was happening, I was so excited, but then when I saw the price of the tickets, I said to myself, ‘I can't even afford to bring me, much lesss my family.’ I see my family every day struggling to survive. When we talk about theatre, it doesn't even cross their minds because it is so out of our reach.

    “That's why I wanted to come tonight: To tell you that our communities deserve to have the experience to see this play just like anyone else. So how can we make that happen? Is there a way to raise money to bring as many families, especially Spanish-speaking families, to the play? I imagine that many of those people who come will be going to be in a theatre for the first time. I can imagine their kids being blown away by seeing their culture and their music portrayed on the stage. How can we make that possible?”

    DiRienzo told the crowd the DCPA is committed to ensuring that everyone who wants to see the play has an opportunity.

    "It's possible," DiRienzo told Acosta. "Yes, it's possible.”

    DCPA board member Patricia Baca told Acosta and others in attendance that  the DCPA has scholarships and corporate underwriting that can make it affordable for families with financial hardship to come to the DCPA not only to see its plays but to participate in classes offered by the Education Division. And she made it plain that the DCPA’s commitment to Latinx and other communities of color is neither new nor fleeting.

    "The Denver Center is for everybody," she said.

    “And this is not the first or last play we will ask you to come in and give us your thoughts about,” Baca added. “And we will not only ask you to give us your thoughts on Latino-oriented plays. We want you here for the multitude of offerings, and we want to know what you think and feel.

    “The conversation cannot end here. The conversation needs to continue. The suggestions you have made have been noted. And we will take action on as many of those as we can.” 

    Here is a roundup of other comments from the community conversation:

    American Mariachi director James Vásquez: “My full name is Pedro James Vásquez. My dad was born in Mexico, and my mom in  Southern California. I look very much like my mother, while my two younger brothers look very Mexican. I don't have a Spanish accent, so growing up, I got made fun of by a lot of my cousins for the way I spoke. So I just stopped speaking. American Mariachi is about reconnecting people to their culture. It’s about being given permission to reconnect with your culture, and attempt to start speaking again. And I am grateful for that.”

    Tina Walls, DCPA Board member: “My big passion is bringing the arts and culture of the underrepresented to the broader community, and bringing the under-represented, especially the kids, to this wonderful cultural footprint that we have in this community."

    Patrick Elkins-Zeglarski, DCPA Associate Director of Education: “People don't get any whiter than I am, and no more devoted to mariachi. And I can tell you that mariachi saved my life when I was growing up. I came from a very violent high-school experience, but we would stop everything when my peers would bring out their instruments and bring us all together in the halls of our high school in Northern California. So I am very much a witness to the story you are telling. Could we have any greater Valentine to our community than this play?”

    Jesse Ogas, Su Teatro and Fire Fly Autism: “We are seeing bigotry and hatred and ugliness in our community that I have not experienced in my lifetime — but my parents did. And to watch them now as elders having to relive that just infuriates me. What you are doing right now with American Mariachi is extremely important at this particular time in our history because you are portraying who we are as people — and to celebrate us in this way really is important. It takes courage.”

    Patty Baca, DCPA board member: "This play is going to be one of the delights of our community this year. I believe so strongly in this story, especially for our children so that they can see our people on the stage. See our people writing the play, directing the play, designing the play — and knowing that those are all possibilities for them as well.”

    John Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S. by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center’s Senior Arts Journalist.

    American Mariachi: Ticket information

    160x160-amercian-mariachi-tempAt a glance: Lucha and Boli are ready to start their own all-female mariachi band in 1970s Denver, but they’ll have to fight a male-dominated music genre and pressure from their families to get it done. This humorous, heartwarming story about music’s power to heal and connect includes gorgeous live mariachi music..

    • Presented by the DCPA Theatre Company
    • Performances Jan. 26 through Feb. 25
    • Space Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex
    • Tickets start at $30
    • Call 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE
    • Sales to groups of 10 or more click here

    Previous NewsCenter Coverage of American Mariachi:
    Cast announced, and 5 things we learned at first rehearsal
    American Mariachi
    : Community conversation begins
    Summit Spotlight video: José Cruz González, American Mariachi
    2016 Summit: An infusion of invisible color and hidden voices
    Vast and visceral: 2017-18 Theatre Company season
    Denver Center taking new plays to new level in 2017-18

  • 'American Mariachi': Cast announced, and 5 things we learned at first rehearsal

    by John Moore | Jan 04, 2018
    The making of American Mariachi: Photo gallery:

    Making of 'American Mariachi'

    Photos from the opening week of rehearsals for 'American Mariachi.' The world-premiere play with music performs in the Stage Theatre from Jan. 26 (opening Feb. 2) through Feb 25. To see more photos, click on the image above to be taken to our full gallery. Photo above by Bobby Plasencia. Other photos by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.


    Director James Vásquez says now is a wildly important time to be telling stories about women in the American theatre

    By John Moore
    Senior Arts Journalist

    Rehearsals for the DCPA Theatre Company's upcoming world-premiere co-production of  playwright José Cruz González's American Mariachi began in earnest this week, launching an unprecedented partnership with the acclaimed Old Globe Theatre in San Diego.

    Amerian Mariachi QuoteThe new play with live music will open at the Stage Theatre in Denver on Feb. 2 and run through Feb. 25 as a featured attraction of the 2018 Colorado New Play Summit. And once it closes here, the entire production will be transported intact to San Diego for a second run opening March 29 – sets, actors and all.

    American Mariachi is set in the 1970s American southwest. It follows the journey of a young woman named Lucha, who has become the caretaker for a mother with dementia. When Lucha finds a mariachi record that briefly brings her mother back to life, she becomes determined to learn how to play this magical song for her before it is too late. But at a time when being a female mariachi player was unheard of in the U.S., Lucha's hopes for performing seem like a fantasy until she assembles a spunky group of female mariachi musicians who are ready to make her dream come true.

    "This is an opportunity to tell a really important story about women, about the Latinx culture and about music,” DCPA President and CEO Janice Sinden said at a gathering to greet the cast and creative team as they began rehearsals.  

    Director James Vásquez agreed that now is a “wildly, wildly” important time to be telling stories about women in the American theatre. “I grew up surrounded and influenced by strong women all my life,” he said, “so to be able to help tell these stories is an honor — and, I think, a duty.”

    Here are five things we learned at first rehearsal:

    NUMBER 1American Mariachi Patty Baca. Photo by John Moore The DCPA will host its second community conversation introducing American Mariachi and its importance from 6-8 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 11, at the Newman Building for Theatre Education, located at 13th and Arapahoe streets. DCPA Director of Strategic Projects FloraJane DiRienzo said the gathering is an opportunity for all interested parties to join Vásquez, learn more about the play and discuss with DCPA staff how to deepen engagement with the Hispanic and Latinx communities around this high-profile staging. "We are truly thrilled to have you here," said Dr. Patricia Baca (pictured above and right), longtime DCPA board member and former Denver Public Schools deputy superintendent, in welcoming the American Mariachi cast and creative team to Denver. "To me, this play is extremely important, certainly for the Latinx community, but really for all communities. We're going to get a lot of people here to see the talent that you bring, and the potential that you represent to young people in our community. You are the reality of what our kids dream of." Anyone wanting to attend the free conversation is asked to RSVP by email to Jennifer Kemps at JKemps@dcpa.org.

    Our report from the first Mariachi community conversation

    NUMBER 2 Conversations around American Mariachi reflect a rise in the term “Latinx” (pronounced “Latin X”), which is being more widely embraced among scholars, community leaders and journalists as a gender-neutral alternative to Latino or Latina.  According to The Huffington Post, Latinx is part of a “linguistic revolution” that aims to move beyond gender binaries and is inclusive of the intersecting identities of Latin American descendants. In addition to men and women from all racial backgrounds, Latinx also makes room for people who are trans, queer, agender, non-binary, gender non-conforming or gender fluid.

    American Mariachi Mural in progress. Designed by Regina Garcia. Photo by John MooreThe mural that made the director and playwright cry is shown in progress. It is the vision of Scenic Designer Regina Garcia. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.

    NUMBER 3González returns to Denver with his third world-premiere play for the DCPA Theatre Company, following the lyrical magical realism piece September Shoes in 2005 and the outright comedy Sunsets and Margaritas in 2008. Last week, he and Vásquez got an early peek at a massive mural that will serve as the foundation of Regina Garcia's scenic design in the DCPA's scenic shop. "Both of us just started crying," Vásquez said. Addressing all of the artists who are working in any capacity toward the creation of this show, González said: "To me, you are all magical unicorns, because you make magic. You are the heart and soul of the DCPA, and I am humbled by that. Thank you for your talent, for your professionalism, and for your desire to make the impossible happen."

    American Mariachi Cast

    NUMBER 4 Vásquez described American Mariachi as the story of underdogs, "and right now, there is no better play to celebrate the underdog stepping into their voice than this one," he said. "We get to tell the story of five underdogs who have been pushed down, and they step out into the world and make a change. I think that's really exciting, and I think the world is ready for that. So that's what we are going to do."

    NUMBER 5 For more than a decade, the DCPA Theatre Company has typically introduced developing new works at its annual Colorado New Play Summit and then scheduled two or three titles to be fully staged on the next mainstage season. American Mariachi was given an unprecedented two-year gestation period, and for that, González is grateful. "It's really great to have been given the extra time to continue to develop the play with continuing workshops here and in Los Angeles, González said. "What was so wonderful about showing early versions of our story was seeing young women in particular come and see their lives being played out up there on the stage. That is a rare and important thing for them." 

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    American Mariachi: Cast and creatives announced:

    • Playwright: José Cruz González 
    • Director: James Vásquez
    • Music Director: Cynthia Reifler Flores
    • Natalie Camunas as Gabby / Ensemble
    • Crissy Guerrero as Soyla / Sister Manuela / Ensemble
    • Rodney Lizcano as Mino / Padre Flores / Ensemble
    • Doreen Montalvo as Amalia / Doña Lola/ Ensemble
    • Jennifer Paredes as Lucha / Ensemble
    • Bobby Plasencia as Federico / Ensemble
    • Luis Quintero as Mateo / René / Rubin / Ensemble
    • Amanda Robles as Isabel / Tía Carmen/ Ensemble
    • Heather Velazquez (Hortensia (Boli) / Ensemble 
    • Scenic Designer: Regina Garcia
    • Costume Designer: Meghan Anderson Doyle
    • Lighting Designer: Paul Miller
    • Sound Designer: Ken Travis
    • Dramaturg: Shirley Fishman
    • Stage Manager: Rachel Ducat
    • Assistant Stage Managers: Heidi Echtenkamp and Amanda Salmons
    • Violin: Martin Padilla
    • Violin :Tomás Tinoco Jr.
    • Trumpet: Guadalupe Zarate
    • Vihuela:Erick Jiménez
    • Guitarrón: Ruben Marin
    John Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S. by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center’s Senior Arts Journalist.

    American Mariachi: Ticket information

    160x160-amercian-mariachi-tempAt a glance: Lucha and Boli are ready to start their own all-female mariachi band in 1970s’ Denver, but they’ll have to fight a male-dominated music genre and pressure from their families to get it done. This humorous, heartwarming story about music’s power to heal and connect includes gorgeous live mariachi music..

    • Presented by the DCPA Theatre Company
    • Performances Jan. 26 through Feb. 25
    • Space Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex
    • Tickets start at $30
    • Call 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE
    • Sales to groups of 10 or more click here

    Video: José Cruz González at the 2016 Colorado New Play Summit

     José Cruz González talks with John Moore about 'American Mariachi' during its first iteration in 2016.

     

    Previous NewsCenter Coverage of American Mariachi:
    American Mariachi: Community conversation begins
    Summit Spotlight video: José Cruz González, American Mariachi
    2016 Summit: An infusion of invisible color and hidden voices
    Vast and visceral: 2017-18 Theatre Company season
    Denver Center taking new plays to new level in 2017-18

  • 'American Mariachi': Community conversation begins

    by John Moore | Oct 09, 2017
    Making of 'American Mariachi'Photos from the Sept. 21 roundtable conversation on 'American Mariachi,' opening Jan. 26. To see more photos, hover your cursor over the image above and click the forward arrow that appears. Photos by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.

    Playwright, director introduce coming world premiere that will tell a pioneering story from Denver to San Diego.


    By John Moore
    Senior Ats Journalist

    The DCPA invited members of various local Latino communities to join them on Sept. 21 for a roundtable conversation on American Mariachi, the Theatre Company’s upcoming world premiere musical play by José Cruz González.

    American Mariachi Students from three local colleges, teachers, mariachi players and members of the Mi Casa Resource Center were among the two dozen who joined the playwright, director James Vásquez and members of the DCPA staff for a free-form introduction to the play, followed by an open discussion on how the Denver Center might best engage the community around this high-profile staging.

    American Mariachi is a first for the DCPA Theatre Company: It is being created as a co-production with the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego. That means the story is being brought to life here in Denver from Jan. 26-Feb. 25 as a featured attraction of the 2018 Colorado New Play Summit. And once it closes here, the entire production will be transported to San Diego for a second run opening March 23 – sets, actors and all.

    González and Vásquez gave the roundtable audience their enthusiastic accounts of the play’s history, inspirations, logistical challenges and potential audience impact. “I think this play is ultimately going to have a beautiful, brilliant life all around the country,” Vásquez said.

    But first González, who previously debuted September Shoes (2005) and Sunsets and Margaritas (2009) at the Denver Center, wants to make sure as many people from all economic, ethnic and cultural backgrounds see the play when they have the opportunity in Denver. Here’s some of what they told those gathered:

    What’s the story? American Mariachi is set in the 1970s American southwest. It follows the journey of a young woman, Lucha, who has become the caretaker for a mother suffering from dementia. As a girl, Lucha’s father and his best friend were part of a mariachi band, and their home was filled with life and music. But something happened that tore the band apart, after which the mother began to lose herself. Now years later, Lucha and her cousin find a record of a mariachi song that briefly brings the mother back to life. Lucha is then determined to learn how to play this magical song for her mother before it is too late. But as the young women set out to start their own mariachi band (something unheard of in that day), everyone around them discourages them because they are women – including Lucha’s father. But they do it anyway.

    American Mariachi. Summit Are they any good? In a word, no. “They're The Bad News Bears of mariachi bands,” González said. “They're not great. But they find their path, and they learn the song. And along the way they find their voices - and their places in the world.”

    (Pictured right: Elia Saldana and Sal Lopez in the 2016 Colorado New Play Summit reading of 'American Mariachi.' Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.) 

    Will the play include live music? The cast of nine not only must act and sing, they will play live musical instruments. In addition, five mariachi musicians will make up the orchestra.

    The music: About 14 songs will be performed in American Mariachi. González wrote three, including the poignant ballad song at center of the plot. The rest are traditional songs.    

    American Mariachi The development: American Mariachi was commissioned by the DCPA Theatre Company in 2014 and was presented as a featured reading at the 2016 Colorado New Play Summit. It has been honed through two workshops since, most recently in Los Angeles this past summer. At the Colorado New Play Summit in 2016, "it was 150-page play,” González said. "We're now down to 95 pages. So it's now very lean, and it moves like gangbusters.”

    (Pictured right: The cast of the DCPA's 'American Mariachi' at a workshop in Los Angeles in July. Photo provided by Douglas Langworthy.)

    Is there a language barrier? “The script is 95 percent English, with a smattering of Spanish here or there,” Vásquez said. And pains will be taken to convey the meaning of any Spanish word, through physical gestures or outright translation. “Now, the traditional songs are in Spanish,” Vásquez said. “But I think their meaning is something our audience will understand through the sheer theatricality of the musicians."

    That goes both ways: One roundtable attendee said the language barrier works both ways: “I think there would be an appetite for an all-Spanish version of this show for the communities that can only speak Spanish and would otherwise not be able to engage in the story fully,” she said. González took that to heart and said he will consider producing an all-Spanish version of the script.

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    Who is the play for? After an earlier public reading, Vásquez was greeted by a young woman who told him, “I have never seen myself represented on stage. I see movies or TV shows or plays, and it's never about me. This was about me." "She walked out feeling like she had a place in the world," Vásquez said, "which I think is a testament to the play Jose has written.” But González was quick to add that American Mariachi is not only about these young women finding their voices. “It's also about families dealing with Alzheimer’s and other issues we are all dealing with in our own communities,” he said.

    The aftermath:
    After the creators’ presentation, DCPA staff asked their guests for their questions and concerns. One intrigued attendee said American Mariachi may well be seen as an effective counter in communities that still have a stigma about the relevance of the arts. Among the other concerns: A possible price barrier, getting the word out to the people who might most be interested in this story, and the cost of downtown parking. DCPA representatives told them they are committed to ensuring that everyone who wants to see the play has an opportunity.

    “You can open doors,” the DCPA's Nataki Garrett said, “or you can remind people that the doors are open.”


    John Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S. by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center’s Senior Arts Journalist.

     

    American Mariachi: Ticket information

    160x160-amercian-mariachi-tempAt a glance: Lucha and Boli are ready to start their own all-female mariachi band in 1970s’ Denver, but they’ll have to fight a male-dominated music genre and pressure from their families to get it done. This humorous, heartwarming story about music’s power to heal and connect includes gorgeous live mariachi music..

    • Presented by the DCPA Theatre Company
    • Performances Jan. 26 through Feb. 25
    • Space Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex
    • Tickets start at $25
    • Call 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE
    • Sales to groups of 10 or more click here

    Video: José Cruz González at the 2016 Colorado New Play Summit

     

     

    Previous NewsCenter Coverage of American Mariachi:
    Summit Spotlight video: José Cruz González, American Mariachi
    2016 Summit: An infusion of invisible color and hidden voices
    Vast and visceral: 2017-18 Theatre Company season
    Denver Center taking new plays to new level in 2017-18

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John Moore
John Moore
Award-winning arts journalist John Moore has recently taken a groundbreaking new position as the DCPA’s Senior Arts Journalist. With The Denver Post, he was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the US by American Theatre Magazine. He is the founder of the Denver Actors Fund, a nonprofit that raises money for local artists in medical need. John is a native of Arvada and attended Regis Jesuit High School and the University of Colorado at Boulder. Follow him on Twitter @moorejohn.

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