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Fringe Artist Spotlight: Teatro San Diego

Teatro San Diego artists perform at the San Diego Fringe Festival,  June 2, 2022.
Roland Lizarondo
Teatro San Diego makes its San Diego Fringe debut with a pair of new works. June 2, 2022.

San Diego International Fringe Festival ends on Sunday. Teatro San Diego will have one final performance of its "New Works" on Saturday at the Centro Cultural de la Raza. But this show will not be the last you hear of the vibrant new theater company.

Top SD Fringe Pick Teatro SD

Opening a brand new theater company during a global pandemic might seem a daunting or even Quixotic endeavor. But Julio Cataño was happy to tilt at windmills to create Teatro San Diego.

"We started in 2020 during the summer when the COVID pandemic really hit," he said. "And the thing that really inspired us as a group was a huge group of BIPOC artists from San Diego. The Black Lives Matter movement was really at its height during that time, and we were investigating what the opportunities were, what the landscape was like in San Diego for a performing artist of color. And we came to the point where we thought we need to just create another opportunity."


And they did. But for the new company, diversity is not just about race and ethnicity but also about gender and identity as reflected in "New Works" (a showcase of two 30-minute works in progress) at San Diego Fringe.

"You're seeing two incredible leaders of the performing arts come from communities that are underrepresented and are telling stories that are so creative and so imaginative that it just adds more color to the landscape of San Diego," Cataño said.

Clinton Sherwood identifies as non-binary and their "Body Talk" dance show explores different relationships through movement, such as two women meeting up on a crowded dance floor or a couple breaking up. There are some songs in their show as well but the stories are all beautifully conveyed through the dancers' movements and body language.

"In musical theater, we get a lot of plot through words and through song," Sherwood said. "And I wanted to really challenge that and let the body be the leading voice. And so I created six dance pieces to challenge different theatrical rules."

Julio Cataño is the executive director of Teatro San Diego, which is presenting "New Works" at San Diego Fringe. June 2, 2022.
Roland Lizarondo
Julio Cataño is the executive director of Teatro San Diego, which is presenting "New Works" at San Diego Fringe. June 2, 2022.

Challenging rules is what Fringe is all about Cataño said.


"The Fringe is a great place, it's a big old sandbox where you could just play and try new things," he said. "I actually grew up with Kevin Charles Patterson, the artistic director (of San Diego Fringe). I went to SCPA (School for Creative and Performing Arts), I graduated from the SDSU MFA. But I grew up training with Kevin when he had the Academy of Performing Arts. And I remember one of the biggest things that I learned from him. He said, 'never underestimate, never dictate what an artist can do.' You need to always believe in the artist to just give them the space to grow and lift themselves up, and become who they're going to be. And I truly believe that. And Kevin provided this space with Fringe for all of us to come in and continue to push the art form."

When looking for artists to work with, Cataño turned to people he knew at San Diego State University. Sherwood was one of his classmates.

"I could not be more grateful for Julio and his company hoisting me up and giving me space to create this piece," Sherwood said.

Teatro San Diego and Fringe have allowed Sherwood to present "Body Talk" and experiment with different styles of physical communication.

"I think that there's always stories happening with bodies," Sherwood said. "When we talk to each other, we don't just hear the words. We see each other's physical postures, we see gestures. We see energy in the body."

Victoria Matlock-Fowler's "The Dropout (The Unofficial Musical)" looks to the story of Elizabeth Homes. It is part of Teatro San Diego's "New Works" at San Diego Fringe.
Teatro SD
Victoria Matlock-Fowler's "The Dropout (The Unofficial Musical)" looks to the story of Elizabeth Homes. It is part of Teatro San Diego's "New Works" at San Diego Fringe.

A different kind of energy can be found in the central character of the second piece in Teatro San Diego's "New Works," In the musical "The Dropout (The Unofficial Musical)," Victoria Matlock-Fowler wanted to explore the cult of personality surrounding Elizabeth Holmes, the biotech entrepreneur who was convicted of fraud.

"I wanted to tell this story because, first of all, she is an amazing caricature of a human," Matlock-Fowler said. "I just thought she was so interesting. The way that she carries herself, the eyes, the intensity with which she talks. I just really thought, wow, that's a really interesting character and I would love to get into her mind and why she does what she does. How did it start and why does she get to be where she is? And how did she get so lost along the way? Because she was someone that had such great ambition. But she really did believe that she was going to change the world. So how did she get so far off ? And once you do tell a lie to try to make the world a better place, how many lies do you tell and how far can you really go before there's an ethical compromise? So I found so many interesting parts to the story."

The show had to be a musical because Matlock-Fowler said that is her "native language."

"I've been doing musicals since I was young and always loved singing. I wrote songs when I was little," she said. "So when it came to writing and creating a piece for myself, I just knew that's the language that I could speak the best. And I love it when musical theater is realistic. So I wanted to kind of toe that line, and I just knew that that's what I know best."

What is being presented as Fringe is just the opening section of her musical.

"It's really to me just the baby beginning start of this show and this is the world premiere, the first live public audience and it's absolutely terrifying but it's also just so humbling and I'm so grateful to be here," Matlock-Fowler said.

Neither Matlock-Fowler nor Sherwood would be at San Diego Fringe at all if it were not for Teatro San Diego and that is precisely why Cataño founded it.

"My mission statement here is to uplift San Diego artists because there's a massive exodus of artists from San Diego that train here and then find opportunities elsewhere. And so we're trying to provide a space where they can continue to work and find a place to come home when they want to come home," Cataño said.

There is one last performance of "New Works" at Fringe on Saturday. But the high energy and creative drive of Teatro San Diego can be found all over the county as the company pursues its mission. It has "Songs of a New World" running through June 26 at the Brooks Theatre in Oceanside; it is running a program called Broadway Dance Lab at Tenth Avenue Arts Center on July 1; it's producing "The Wiz" at the Joan Kroc Theatre; and it has a new residency at the City Heights Performance Annex. Plus, there’s also a chance that "Body Talk" and "The Dropout" will return as full-length shows.