KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando looks at the role community theater plays in bringing works like Josefina Lopez's "Logan Heights" to life.
Related Story: Behind The Scenes: 'Logan Heights'
HOST INTRO: Last weekend playwright Josefina Lopez had two plays running in San Diego, the politically charged Detained in the Desert at the La Jolla Playhouse’s Shank Theater and the highly personal Logan Heights at Onstage Playhouse. KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando explores the role community theater plays in telling these stories.
TAG: “Logan Heights” runs through October 12th at Onstage Playhouse in Chula Vista. Watch for Beth’s TV feature tonight on Evening Edition.
Some define “professional” as being paid to do a job.
BRYANT HERNANDEZ: We’re not getting paid a cent.
That’s Bryant Hernandez. He’s directing Josefina Lopez’s play Logan Heights at Chula Vista’s community theater, Onstage Playhouse.
BRYANT HERNANDEZ: People will say it’s just amateur theater but it really isn’t because this is what we do, this is what we love, this is how we just express ourselves.
Passion rather than pay fuels him, and playwright Lopez appreciates that.
JOSEFINA LOPEZ: You know the tragedy of professional theaters is that people like me never felt like I could go to the theater because I never saw people like me on the stage and then I couldn’t afford to go, you think about like wow $72 for the worst seat in the house you’re like wow do I eat or do I go to the theater? Do I feed my soul or do I feed my body?
Hernandez feeds his soul by volunteering his time at Onstage Productions where he’s bringing one of Lopez’s early plays to life. The story focuses on a young writer trying to find her voice against the cacophony of her family and barrio life.
CLIP Logan Heights, thank you for the stories.
JOSEFINA LOPEZ: Originally the play is called Boyle Heights, which is the neighborhood in East Los Angeles where I grew up and the director asked me if we could change it to Logan Heights because he felt it was so universal that anyone from the barrio or anyone not even in the barrio could identify with it.
Hernandez identified closely with Lopez’s alter ego in the play, Dalia, and her family.
CLIP Argh, my mother, I love her but when will she realize she didn’t screw up, “Oh why did you turn out this way?” My mother.
BRYANT HERNANDEZ: : I am like Dalia because I grew up being an artist working in theater and my family still don’t know why I chose that.
BRYANT HERNANDEZ: Both of my parents would say they are very Mexican and I consider, for myself, a Chicano, a Latino, cause I was born and raised here in San Diego, here in Chula Vista… my parents would never consider themselves Chicanos, they actually think of it as a negative term.
CLIP Dad You look like a cholo, one of these days someone is going to shoot you thinking you’re in a gang.
Lopez also felt like she was straddling two cultures. She lived in the U.S. as an undocumented immigrant for 13 years before becoming a legal resident at 18.
JOSEFINA LOPEZ: So for me this play is about me finally saying look, I may not belong anywhere according to society or according to these additional rules but I belong in here, in my soul, you know what you’re home is in your corazón, in your heart, and your soul, and as long as you are comfortable with who you are, wherever you go, that’s home.
“Logan Heights” and “Detained in the Desert” represents extremes of Lopez’s work. One is early and personal, and the other is recent and driven by a desire to humanize the immigration issue.
JOSEFINA LOPEZ: I don’t feel like oh, how much I’ve improved it’s more like how wonderful that at 27 I was experiencing that and now at 44 I really can look back and be proud of my life and go wow I am that woman that that 27-year-old women knew she could be.
CLIP I will return as soon as I have something to give back to you.
Lopez says community theaters bring people together to make them think, question, and often times heal.
JOSEFINA LOPEZ: Because a lot of people will not go get help but if they see a play and they are able to cry about something they have repressed for so many years and they are able to cry with the protagonist, they may be able to heal that because they allowed themselves to feel it. So we’re doing shamanistic work, we’re doing God’s work but we’re calling it theater just so people don’t get scared.
But you could say “Logan Heights” explores the scary but universal theme of leaving home to venture out into the unknown to discover who you are as well as the potential of what you might become.
Beth Accomando, KPBS News.