• 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

  • 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.
  • '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': 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

  • Denver Center taking new plays to new level in 2017-18

    by John Moore | Jul 02, 2017

    Lauren Yee. The Great Leap
    Lauren Yee’s 'The Great Leap,' which was introduced as a reading at the 2017 Colorado New Play Summit, will premiere at the Denver Center next February, then re-open at the Seattle Rep just 12 days after closing here. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.


    Companies are now jumping on new Denver Center works before they have even been fully staged here.

    By John Moore
    Senior Arts Journalist

    The Denver Center is taking a major step forward in its development of new work for the American theatre in 2017. And one major reason is a hip new term in the theatrical lexicon: “Co-Pro.”

    For the first time, the DCPA Theatre Company will stage two new plays next season that will immediately transfer to major theatres around the country as essentially continuing world premieres. They will quickly re-open in their second cities with their Denver Center directors and casts intact.

    American Mariachi. Summit The Theatre Company opens José Cruz González’s American Mariachi on Jan. 26, 2018. Less than a month after it closes in Denver, the production will re-open at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego. Lauren Yee’s The Great Leap, which bows in Denver on Feb. 2, will re-open at the Seattle Rep just 12 days after closing here.

    By virtue of these unique partnerships, both stagings are considered “co-productions.” Or, as the kids say, “Co-Pros.” Coincidentally, the re-opening nights in San Diego and Seattle will both take place on March 23.

    (Pictured above right: 'American Mariachi' was introduced as a reading at the 2016 Colorado New Play Summit. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.)

    For 12 years, artistic leaders from around the country have come to the Denver Center’s Colorado New Play Summit each February to see readings of developing new works, then come back the next year to see the subsequent fully staged world-premiere productions before scheduling some of the plays themselves. Among the popular titles that have expanded through this slow growth plan have been Jason Grote’s 1001 and Samuel D. Hunter’s The Whale.

    But now companies are coming here to see readings and committing to scheduling them even before they are fully staged at the Denver Center for the first time.

    Matt McGrath in 'The Legend of Georgia McBride.' Photo by Jennifer M. Koskinen. All this comes at a time when Denver Center-born works are proliferating on national stages like never before. In 2017, Matthew Lopez’s The Legend of Georgia McBride will become the most-produced new Denver Center work since Quilters in 1982. Ten companies this year are presenting the story of a straight man who explores the world of drag to feed his family in cities stretching from Los Angeles to Key West, Fla., with four more already slated for 2018. Lopez’s newest work, Zoey’s Perfect Wedding, will debut at the DCPA’s Space Theatre next Jan. 19.

    (Pictured above right: Matt McGrath in the Denver Center's 2014 world premiere of 'The Legend of Georgia McBride.' Photo by Jennifer M. Koskinen.) 

    How Georgia McBride has evolved since Denver

    Since former Artistic Director Kent Thompson launched the Colorado New Play Summit in 2006, the DCPA has given 27 new plays their world-premiere stagings. At least 32 productions of 13 DCPA-born works are being presented around the country this year and next, most notably a high-profile return of the reimagined The Unsinkable Molly Brown, which plays from July 21-27 at The Muny in St. Louis. The Muny is America’s largest outdoor musical theatre. After that, star Beth Malone said, the goal is Broadway.

    LEAD MOLLY"That is absolutely the intention of putting it up at The Muny,” Malone said. “There is no other reason than for it go to Broadway. Everyone involved with it feels very strongly that we are completely on track.”

    (Pictured at right: The cast of the DCPA Theatre Company's 'The Unsinkable Molly Brown.' Photo by Adams VisCom.)

    Last week, two recent Colorado New Play Summit readings landed on The Kilroys, a curated list of the 31 most promising new plays by women: Yee's The Great Leap and Donnetta Lavinia Grays' Last Night and the Night Before.

    NATAKI GARRETT 3Even older new plays like Octavio Solis' Lydia (2008) are still making an impact. “Lydia is a blast-furnace drama now in its Seattle debut in a blistering, urgent staging from Strawberry Theatre Workshop," Misha Berson of the Seattle Times wrote last month of a "forcefully directed ensemble of visceral power." Last year, the Aurora Fox became the first company to stage the Denver Center’s Native American premiere of Black Elk Speaks since 1996.

    All of this proliferation is not only changing the way the nation looks at the Denver Center, said Associate Artistic Director Nataki Garrett. It is changing how the Denver Center looks at itself.

    “The Colorado New Play Summit is a nationally renowned place where theatre companies from all over the United States come to see those playwrights who are moving up in the ranks and becoming the clarions for the future of playwriting,” she said.  “But I think this is where it was always heading. The most important part of the work we do as theatre artists is to foster and develop new work, and I think this is that idea coming to full fruition.”

    (Story continues after the video)

    Video spotlight: American Mariachi



    What makes for a successful Co-Pro, Garrett said, is the continuation of the Denver Center’s commitment to the playwright once the new play reaches its immediate second destination.

    “What I am really focused on with these companies is, 'Are you willing to make space for that writer to keep writing?’ ” Garrett said. “The whole point is to for them to be able to keep evolving their piece after they leave Denver, if that’s what the piece needs.”

    The Theatre Company’s commissioning program is one reason the pipeline stays stocked. At any given time, the company has a number of renowned and emerging playwrights under commissions. That essentially binds the playwright to write a new work of his or her choice, and the DCPA Theatre Company then has the right of first refusal to stage it. The playwrights with commissions in progress are:

    • Kemp Powers
    • Anne Garcia-Romero
    • Aleshea Harris
    • Mary Kathryn Nagle
    • Tony Meneses
    • David Jacobi
    • Regina Taylor

    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.


    DCPA AROUND THE COUNTRY: 2017-18

    The Unsinkable Molly Brown, by Dick Scanlan and Meredith Willson: The 1960 musical that tells the rags-to-riches tale of Colorado's greatest heroine is infused with new songs and a new script.

    • The Muny, St. Louis, July 21-27, 2017

    The Book of Will, By Lauren Gunderson:  The untold story of the race to publish Shakespeare's First Folio before half his canon was lost to history.

    • Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival, June 9-July 28, 2017
    • Northlight Theatre, Skokie, Ill., Nov. 9-Dec. 17, 2017
    • Round House Theatre, Bethesda, Md., Nov. 29-Dec. 24, 2017
    • Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Ashland, Ore., June-October, 2018

    The Great Leap, by Lauren Yee: An American college basketball team travels to Beijing in 1989.

    • American Conservatory Theatre New Strands Festival, San Francisco (reading), May 19, 2017
    • DCPA Theatre Company, Feb. 2-March 11, 2018
    • Seattle Rep, March 23-April 22, 2018 (co-world premiere)

    The Legend of Georgia McBride, by Matthew Lopez: A young Elvis impersonator turns to drag to feed his growing family.

    • Geffen Playhouse, Los Angeles, April 4-May 14, 2017
    • GableStage, Coral Gables, Fla., May 27-June 25, 2017
    • Marin Theatre Company, San Francisco, June 8-July 9, 2017
    • ACT Theatre, Seattle, June 9-July 2, 2017
    • Theatre Nova, Detroit, June 9- July 9, 2017
    • Dorset Theatre Festival, Vermont, Aug. 3-19, 2017
    • Northlight Theatre, Skokie, Ill., Sept. 14-Oct. 22, 2017
    • Hippodrome State Theatre, Gainesville, Fla., Oct. 13-Nov. 5, 2017
    • B Street Theatre, Sacramento, Calif.,Nov. 6-Dec. 9, 2017
    • Uptown Players, Dallas, Dec. 1-17, 2017
    • Guthrie Theatre, Minneapolis, March 23-April 22, 2018
    • Key West Players, Key West, Fla., May 2-19, 2018
    • Stoneham Theatre, Stoneham Mass., May 3-20, 2018
    • Round House Theatre, Bethesda, Md., June 8-July 1, 2018

    American Mariachi, by Jose Cruz Gonzalez: The musical tale of an all-female mariachi band in the 1970s.

    • DCPA Theatre Company, Jan. 26-Feb. 25, 2018
    • Old Globe (San Diego), March 23-April 29, 2018 (co-world premiere)

    Just Like Us, by Karen Zacarías: Documentary-style play follows four Latina teenage girls in Denver - two are documented, two are not.

    • Visión Latino Theatre Company, Feb. 24-March 12, 2017

    Dusty and the Big Bad World, by Cusi Cram: When a popular children’s TV  show spotlights a family with two daddies, it sparks a conservative outcry.

    • Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse, July 6-19, 2017

    Appoggiatura, by James Still: A trip to Venice brings love, loss, pain and joy to three weary travelers in search of healing and happiness in a magical story filled with music and amore.
    • Indiana Repertory Theatre, March 7-31, 2018

    FADE, by Tanya Saracho: When Mexican-born Lucia is hired to write for a Latina TV character, she finds an unexpected muse in the Latino studio custodian.
    • Cherry Lane Theatre, New York, Feb. 8-March 5, 2017
    • TheatreWorks, Hartford, June 1-30, 2017

    Lydia, by Octavio Solis: A maid cares for a border family's near-vegetative teenage daughter who was left in a coma after a mysterious accident. 

    • Strawberry Theatre Workshop, Seattle, June 1-24, 2017

    Almost Heaven: The Songs and Stories of John Denver: The songwriter's life story is told through anecdotes and 21 songs.

    • Rocky Mountain Repertory Theatre, Grand Lake, Sept. 1-30, 2017

    The Whale, by Samuel D. Hunter: An oversized, homebound and dying man struggles to reconcile with his estranged teenage daughter before it’s too late.
    • Verge Theatre Company, Nashville, June 2-14, 2017

    black odyssey, by Marcus Gardley: An imagination of Homer’s epic lens through the lens of the black American experience.
    • California Shakespeare Theatre, Orinda, Calif., Aug. 9-Sept. 3, 2017

    Quilters, by Molly Newman: A series of vignettes performed in song and spoken word that chart the joys and sorrows of the frontier journey West.

    • Ferndale (Calif.) Repertory Theatre, March 9-April 2, 2017

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter


    Video spotlight: The Great Leap

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ABOUT THE EDITOR
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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