Trump Administration Asylum Victory, Church Leaders Indicted In Labor Trafficking Case And Healing Heart Attacks With Pig Hearts
KPBS Midday Edition / September 12, 2019
The U.S. Supreme Court has handed the Trump administration a victory in its efforts to reduce the number of asylum seekers presenting themselves at the U.S.-Mexico border. In Imperial County, a dozen church leaders from the Imperial Valley Ministries have been indicted for allegedly holding homeless people against their will and forcing them to panhandle in several cities, including San Diego. A new therapy using pig hearts to treat heart attacks, developed here in San Diego, shows promising results in human trials. Plus, California has the lowest maternal mortality rate in the nation. So, why are black women dying at a rate of three to four times higher than white women from pregnancy or delivery complications? California lawmakers have passed a bill to address the disparity. And Diversionary Theatre announced its 34th season. Its theme: “We Are.”
Speaker 1: 00:00 A ruling from the U S Supreme Court Wednesday afternoon allows a Trump administration policy to be implemented, which prevents migrants from seeking asylum in the u s if they've traveled through another country without asking for and being denied asylum. Their first KPBS reporter Max Rivlin Adler is just back from the border and joins us now. Max, welcome. Hi. So could you start off by explaining what yesterday afternoon Supreme Court ruling does?
Speaker 2: 00:28 Yesterday's Supreme Court ruling allows a Trump administration rule, which was first hastily announced in July that bars people from applying for asylum in the U S if they've not actually applied for asylum and gone through the entire process in another country that they've transmitted through on their way to the u s with the Supreme Court did yesterday was that they stayed a lower courts, um, injunction, which had put the policy on hold and said until the courts figure this out, the policy can go into effect.
Speaker 1: 01:01 And the Supreme Court's ruling settles for now a back and forth between a US district judge and the Ninth Circuit Court in San Francisco.
Speaker 2: 01:10 What was that about? So the judge, a district judge in the northern district of California and San Francisco, Judge Tigar who had struck down an earlier separate ban on asylum, was really strong in making a nationwide injunction on uh, this rule saying it cannot go into effect anywhere until we figure it out its legality. A separate judge in DC had said that it was legal and could go ahead while it played out in court and the ninth circuit which governs the, um, the courts in California pretty much along the entire west coast. And Arizona then came back and said what the judge in San Francisco did was improper and basically there will be no nationwide injunction on this. Uh, what ended up happening is the judge in San Francisco again tried to place a nationwide injunction. And then finally what happened is that the supreme court in kind of a rare move decided to weigh in here and say, listen, this can continue to play out while it is duked out in the courts between advocates for migraines and the government. And does this just affect asylum seekers from Central America? It does not. It affects anybody who transmitted again through a third country on their way to the southern border. So for example, people from Africa who come and fly into South America, travel through south and Central America to reach the southern border people from Vietnam. I've met Russians into Kalana who've come through that way as well. So basically it only, um, doesn't bar Mexicans who already have a very uphill battle when it comes to seeking asylum.
Speaker 1: 02:43 And what was the scene down at the border this morning
Speaker 2: 02:45 at the border this morning I spoke with several asylum seekers who told me that this wouldn't discourage them because basically they had no choice. They had come all this way to Tijuana and they've decided that whether rule is in effect or not, and I'll explain in a moment, it doesn't necessarily foreclose their chance to not be deported, but it makes their road to asylum that much harder or legal status, almost impossible. Uh, here's one individual from Cameroon who I spoke with who told me that he had come through 10 separate countries on his way to the u s demonstrating just how many different places. One would be able to apply for asylum before they enter the u s
Speaker 3: 03:27 um, um, a postural [inaudible]. Um, Vinny, that's good to me. Um, um, [inaudible] Brazil, um, Erie Credo, Columbia, um, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, and Mexico.
Speaker 2: 03:49 So that individual told me that he would not be able to claim asylum in any of the places he went through because he didn't feel safe in any of them. And it was a long and very difficult journey for him. So for individuals at the southern border who are trying to claim asylum, what they do have the opportunity to do is apply for withholding of removal or, um, withholding under the convention against torture, uh, that the u s is a signatory on. And basically these are very tough roads to get through if you are not represented by a lawyer. And very, very few
Speaker 1: 04:24 people are. So what are the next steps in resolving this issue? So this could go on until
Speaker 2: 04:32 2021. This could go on well into the next, uh, presidential term because what's gonna happen now is there's gonna be arguments in the ninth circuit trying to resolve the issue, whether it's decided one way or the other. Obviously the supreme court has shown an interest in this case, at least five of them had voted to say that it could remain in place. So if that's tipping their hand a little bit, uh, how they'll ultimately decided. So I don't see the, uh, this crisis along the border. Um, and especially these judicial issues around this rule being settled for some time. But if you want to keep your eye on the next step, there will be arguments in the ninth circuit court of Appeals this December, uh, the, uh,
Speaker 1: 05:18 panel there could decide to put an end to this rule. Of course, the government could appeal. And ultimately, of course, I think we're heading towards the supreme court. You know, and I think the interesting thing here is that, you know, the, the, the man who we heard from and that audio clip, his story is not unique. [inaudible]
Speaker 2: 05:34 no, it's not. There are literally thousands of people currently into Helena who have either been returned there through the migrant protection protocols or the remain in Mexico policy, which makes people wait out their asylum claims in Mexico or have been waiting on this kind of legal fiction that is called the waiting list where people wait their number until their number is called and they're allowed to enter into the u s with the port of entry to begin their processing. So we have this crisis that is only going to be exacerbated by the fact that people will be denied asylum. Um, you know, under terms that may ultimately be reversed, but in the meantime they're going to be stuck in a place where they don't feel safe and they can't apply for asylum. Uh, these are countries that they're passing through that you not have a functional asylum system.
Speaker 2: 06:20 So to ask these individuals to a return to the country that they escaped from, where it's in the case of Cameroonians or obviously central Americans is not necessarily a choice they want to have to make. And then on top of that to ask them to, okay, go to another country that you've traveled through and you know, essentially escaped from and ask them for asylum is going to be near on possible. So what we're creating is a really large humanitarian crisis along our southern border that is only compounded by the fact that we no longer will have this release valve, which is that people will be able to claim asylum in the u s I have been speaking with KPBS reporter Max Rivlin Adler. Max, thank you so much. Thank you.
Speaker 1: 00:00 A bizarre story unfolded this week as federal prosecutors announced the arrests of leaders of an El Centro based church, the former pastor of imperial valley ministries, and more than 10 other church officials are accused of forcing homeless people to work, collecting donations for the church. The investigation centered on activities in the churches. Five group homes located in El Centro Calexico and Chulavista journey me, his assistant us attorney, Christopher Tenorio, who was leading the prosecution and Christopher. Welcome to the program by pleasure. What was the imperial valley ministries connection to the homeless? Was it an outreach ministry?
Speaker 2: 00:41 We learned that they originally thought that they would, uh, provide rehabilitation for, uh, drug addicts and those suffering from other types of, uh, substance abuse and they would reach out to them and bring them in and try to give them religious guidance. But what the investigation showed was a, in most recent years that that was kind of a secondary concern to, uh, raising funds by panhandling and collecting their welfare benefits.
Speaker 1: 01:12 The case involves the church picking homeless people up in vans. Was that how they made contact?
Speaker 2: 01:18 Yes, it was. And it depended on where they came from. Primarily they, they targeted the San Diego area because it was both close enough for them to travel frequently, yet far enough to bring them to El Centro and deter them from a, from leaving immediately and going home. But we, we also encountered victims from as far as way far away as Texas that were brought to El Centro.
Speaker 1: 01:42 Did they provide any services to the homeless?
Speaker 2: 01:46 Not for drug rehabilitation, other than to say you're going cold Turkey. And, um, the way they explained it was that they were providing religious guidance through prayer and Bible study and through the discipline that was imposed from both the, the, uh, required fundraising and other chores around the house.
Speaker 1: 02:09 Now how are the homeless people allegedly forced to work for the church?
Speaker 2: 02:14 Well, it's interesting. Under the forced labor statute, the coercion can either be physical or psychological, and other than the physical barriers that kept them inside, such as the, the nails on the windows and the locked doors of the coercion was primarily psychological in this area. And it could also be threatened of serious harm and that serious harm could includes financial harm. So part of the scheme for saw that the, uh, the people that were brought in were, uh, isolated from their families, um, told that they can only associate with other people within IVM and um, threatened to not be provided transportation back home to wherever they came from or just simply let back out on the streets. So the threat of financial harm lead to psychological coercion of making them stay for the most part,
Speaker 1: 03:14 what this case alleges is that the homeless people under this control were basically forced to panhandle and those donations went to the church. Where there consequences if they did not bring enough money back to the church.
Speaker 2: 03:31 We have heard that there were quotas imposed so that if a certain amount wasn't raised by noon the day that they were out panhandling, they might not receive any, uh, money to buy a snack to eat. And, uh, there were also, um, quotas for the day and for the week. We know that, uh, there were incentives such as, uh, the biggest fundraisers and, and, and best members were provided a, a nominal gift on a Sunday for raising the amount. There was also pressure put on the home directors if they found out that certain people were not raising enough money so that the, a home directors would either put more pressure on those individuals or be responsible for the money themselves. When the, uh, when the team did not raise enough.
Speaker 1: 04:21 How did the police find out about this case?
Speaker 2: 04:24 The, uh, El Centro police department told us that they encountered a people pretty regularly out in El Centro that had left the group homes and were looking for ways to go home. So the Times that, um, people did leave, they often left without their personal possessions that were confiscated and certainly didn't have a way to get home. So they were reporting to the police and one of the local share, uh, charities out in El Centro. So they received a lot of information. People who had left but, uh, did not have regular addresses to, to recontact them.
Speaker 1: 04:58 And did someone actually break out of one of these houses?
Speaker 2: 05:01 We have a couple of instances where people had to physically break out. One was a juvenile, a 17 year old young woman who, um, used a dresser drawer broke through window and climbed out and called the police from a neighbors house. The, the police responded, uh, EMT his product to the local medical center. And later when, um, FBI and l central police officers responded to one of the places, some women from inside also yelled for them to be removed because they believed they were being held against their will.
Speaker 1: 05:38 Now, Imperial Valley Ministries has affiliate churches around the country. Was this type of abuse allegedly going on in other jurisdictions too.
Speaker 2: 05:47 When we executed the search warrants last year in El Centro, we also began interviews with some of the affiliate churches. Now, none of those are within the jurisdiction of our us attorney's office, but the FBI has sent leads to those other jurisdictions to see if there were similar allegations. We do know that most of them began with the same handbook that started in El Centro, which included how to raise money and how to recruit people. And, uh, some of those churches have since disassociated with the El Centro church, but investigations that are ongoing to see if any of the present or past conduct is similar to what happened in El Centro.
Speaker 1: 06:29 And what charges, uh, does the church's, former pastor Victor Gonzales and the rest of those arrested, what kind of charges do they face
Speaker 2: 06:38 there? There's a variety of charges. The primary one is a conspiracy to commit forced labor document servitude and benefits fraud. And then there are individual accounts for the forced labor. They are all charged with varying events that may involve all of them or just some of them and the particular victims that pertain to each of them.
Speaker 1: 07:02 I have been speaking to assistant us attorney Christopher Tenorio. Thank you so much for explaining that to us. My pleasure.
Speaker 2: 07:13 [inaudible].
Speaker 1: 00:00 Heart attack. Patients may soon get access to a new therapy. One using pig hearts. KPBS science and technology reporter Shalina Chet Lani spoke with the researcher developing this innovation. Randall Newman and his wife went on an eight mile bike ride just days before he started feeling strange. My arm started tingling. Then that's when I really was kind of what this is, right? New Man had a heart attack five years ago when he was 62 he says he was open to new therapies so he could get better. Try It, you know, everything can help that to get your heart back to where it was. One of the things he was willing to
Speaker 2: 00:37 to try was pig hearts at her lab at UC San Diego in La Jolla scientists, Karen Chrisman grinds up chemically altered pig heart tissue. This material is no longer a collection of cells because it's been turned into a fine powder and when she adds water to it, she creates a hydro Gel. A Hydro Gel is basically a physical material that's gel like um, that's water swollen. So it kind of actually the best example of a Hydro Gel. Not one we use, but the best example is Jello. After a heart attack, the heart tissue is damaged and it forms a scar so it becomes difficult for healthy cells to come in and replace this tissue. This situation can slow down the heart's performance and could lead to heart failure. So Chrisman created this hydro Gel to help repair the scarred heart tissue. When you inject in the person's heart, it sets up into a hydro Gel and serves as this new Tim template for healing inside the heart and so the body's own cells come in, migrate into it and help repair that damaged region. This gel is injected into the damaged part of the heart via a catheter. The Gel opens up the scar tissue and sticks around for about three weeks before biodegrading. When you get more cardiac muscle and less scar tissue, and so because you have more muscle, less scar tissue, you have better performance of your heart, which helps to prevent or at least slow down the progression to heart failure. This therapy has been tested in animal hearts, but Chrisman says her clinical trial is the first time it was tested in human hearts. Randall new Newman was
Speaker 1: 02:12 one of those humans and so far he's happy with the results. He says at the time of the attack, the percentage of blood leaving his heart with every pump was around 48% and then [inaudible] 62 which was almost normal. Human says that happened just a year after you finished the trial.
Speaker 3: 02:30 So the hope would be that if the hydro gel is effective, then some of the medications that we typically give to patients following a heart attack wouldn't be necessary.
Speaker 1: 02:44 UC San Diego cardiologist, Tony de Maria helped design the preclinical trials on animal models, the therapies promising. He says, especially since typical prescription drugs can often have side effects like excessive bleeding and fatigue, but the clinical trial involved 15 patients. So de Maria says there's still more to test before you could safely recommend this.
Speaker 3: 03:05 When when you're looking for safety, then you need large samples. Let's say you did a a study of 30 patients and everybody did well, but the 31st patient had some terrible reaction that would still have implications
Speaker 1: 03:23 back in her lab scientist Karen Chrisman says the experience of patients like Randall Newman shows the trial had good results. All 15 patients improved in exercise, but there was one surprise.
Speaker 2: 03:36 We have saw more changes in later patients. So those that actually had had their heart attack at least a year prior. Um, whereas we saw really less changes or no changes in the earlier patients in terms of their heart size, Chrisman says the therapies [inaudible]
Speaker 1: 03:53 it wasn't as effective in patients who had just suffered a heart attack because their bodies were still reacting to the incident and weren't as receptive to the Hydro Gel. So she says the company making this Gel is raising funds for phase two clinical trial to look specifically at how this therapy works in later stage heart attack patients joining me is KPBS science and technology reporter Shalina Chitlin. Angelina, welcome. Hi, thanks for having me. My first question is why use pig hearts to create this gel? Yes. So there are some other challenges when it comes to different animals. For example, cows could have mad cow disease. So typically scientists try to steer away from any animals that could have other diseases. And what Karen Chrisman told me is that pigs are generally known to be pretty safe. Did you find out what led researchers to come up with this idea?
Speaker 1: 04:47 Dr Chrisman was telling me that, you know, um, there's this hydro gel therapy. The idea of taking a tissues from animals and turning it into a gel, um, has been used in other parts of the human body and it's worked. And so she started to think what could happen if you have a heart attack and you have damaged scar tissue. If you put this gel into it, could it actually work? And that's how she got this idea. And do heart attacks usually cause scarring in the heart? Yeah, it's the same thing that happens when you have trauma to any other part of your body. Like for example, if you fall on your arm and scar tissue forms, it's a protective measure. Your body is trying to make sure that there, you know, other, um, elements don't come in and prevent the healing process. So yes, after you have a heart attack, um, that's just the natural body body process that happens.
Speaker 1: 05:33 So this Hydro Gel, this Jello like substance we heard about can it can actually help the body replace scar tissue with healthy heart cells. Yeah. So specifically how it works is that you is, you know, when you have a scab on your body, it's this thick material. A bunch of blood cells have come in and scabbed over. So the same thing happens on the heart. It's a really a very tough material. And so what the hydrogen l does is essentially goes into the scab. The scarred part of the heart opens it up, opens up that a rough scar tissue and allows the cells to migrate in when they otherwise wouldn't be able to. What are the possible downsides of introducing a foreign biological substance like this into, into the heart? Yeah. So there are always complications with different kinds of people. Um, different bodies might have different reactions to foreign substances.
Speaker 1: 06:26 And the FTA phase one clinical trial of this, uh, Hydro Gel from the company ventric showed it's generally safe in humans. All 15 patients, uh, didn't have any negative reactions. But in, in the feature that I reported, you know, the cardiologist Tony de Maria from UC San Diego made a good point, which is that, you know, you could have 30 patients and, and the 30th patient has a weird reaction. There is still implications to that. So that's why typically drugs like this have to go through, uh, several different clinical trials. And so this gel is going through another series of clinical trials to make sure that it's safe. Now the patient you profiled, Randall Newman had a heart attack five years ago. How long after did he participate in this clinical trial? He had done a couple of other clinical trials before this one and he didn't see many results. So I believe it was about, um, a year or so after the heart attack.
Speaker 1: 07:20 And, um, I think that contributed to why he had such a positive, um, outcome with the, with the Gel. Right. And how long did it take for him to notice any results from having this gel injected into his heart? Yeah, so there's, um, this measurement that doctors use, there's the percentage of blood that goes in and out of your heart, um, to tell how healthy your heart is. And so he says that after a year, um, of him doing the trial when he first had the heart attack is the percentage of blood being pumped into his heart was around 40%. And, uh, after a year that went into the 60s, which is almost normal. So since it, since the, there's hydrogels seemed not to work as well on people who have had recent heart attacks as it does on people who have had heart attacks couple of years ago, let's say.
Speaker 1: 08:09 Do researchers think the GL doesn't work to prevent scarring in the heart as well as it works on existing scars? I think the idea is, or at least from what I gather from Dr Chrisman is that they're still trying to figure that out, especially in the phase two clinical trial as to why that's the case. That why that was the outcome of the first trial. Um, but the theory is that, you know, when your body goes through a traumatic event, there are all sorts of processes that are happening internally that could prevent, uh, the body from being receptive to a kind of therapy. Um, so she thinks that, you know, when you first have your heart attack, your body is going through all of these different changes to try to get back to normal. So it might reject the, it, it may, it may not take onto the hydrogen as well as someone else who's in a more stable state. I see. Is there any estimate as to when a second clinical trial might begin? So there's no time line yet on when the second trial might be a doctor. Chrisman says that the company making the hydrogeology is raising funds currently to conduct the phase two clinical trial. I've been speaking with KPBS science and technology reporters. Shalina Chet Lonnie Shalena. Thank you. Thanks for having me.
Speaker 4: 09:19 Okay.
Speaker 1: 00:00 According to some health rankings. California has the lowest maternal mortality rate in the country. Still Black Women in California continue to die in pregnancy related deaths at a rate three to four times higher than that of white women. One organization advocating for black women called a black women for wellness says the disparity cannot be explained by education, income, or even prenatal care. So they've worked a push Senate bill four 64, which requires implicit bias training for some medical professionals and is now headed to the governor's desk. Ran a grand berry, is the maternal and infant health program manager with black women for wellness. And she joins me now via Skype. Rana, welcome. Thanks for having me. First I want to talk about the disparity. A study show, women are three to four times more likely to die from a pregnancy related death than white women. Um, what's to blame for that disparity?
Speaker 2: 00:55 Okay,
Speaker 3: 00:55 so, um, there's many different, uh, reasons and there's, you know, folks were believing that, you know, has something to do with your socioeconomic status and lots of different things. But since we see this disparity the same across black women, even with advanced degrees, even with, well we um, have started to do more research and even the CDC has recognized that racism and the stress of structural racism and just being in black skin does cause a lot of what women are experiencing when it comes to birthing disparities.
Speaker 1: 01:28 So what are black women experiencing during and after pregnancy? A that puts them at a higher risk for death.
Speaker 2: 01:35 Okay.
Speaker 3: 01:35 Absolutely. So, uh, there's things like, you know, just your environmental racism. Like we like to, uh, we have programs here where we do work around drilling. There's so many oil drilling sites that are right next to, you know, lower income neighborhoods. In one instance. You have women experiencing lots of discrimination in their jobs that caused a lot of those issues. You have women that end up having, um, some more chronic disease issue that is directly related to being in food deserts or not having access to fresh foods and vegetables often. So there's all these different things and it all leads back to a root of structural racism.
Speaker 1: 02:14 And I know in your work you advocate for the wellness of black women. What are some of the experiences you're hearing from the women you work with?
Speaker 2: 02:23 Oh,
Speaker 3: 02:23 oh goodness. A lot of issues are actually in the prenatal process and in the, um, the birthing process. So that's why we came in with this bill that does a lot of different things. But the implicit bias portion is really going in and educating doctors, physicians, and providers about the way that they treat black women. We have so many focus groups and we consistently here, I haven't been listened to. Um, you know, I, I expressed that this was my issue. No one did anything until five hours later. And then, you know, I, I'm bleeding or I now I've had a miscarriage. So, um, it's, that's one of the main things we consistently hear that there's disrespect and disregard around the healthcare while women are pregnant. And that's one of the big things that we want to tackle with this bill.
Speaker 1: 03:11 And I want to talk more about the bill. You know, how will this legislation, Senate bill four 64 help fix these problems?
Speaker 3: 03:19 Well, um, first we are going to make it necessary and mandate that these providers have to do training. They have to learn about what may be explicit biases they have and what, what is implicit biases that they have. And we want to, a lot of times we encounter doctors who don't even know what the statistics are and they're not even aware of, you know, what type of extra care or even just, you know, dignified care that they need to provide. So that's the first thing and we think it's going to help preserve lives in that matter. Um, and then it's also going to help California collect some data around maternal mortality and severe morbidity. So we haven't looked a lot at that. We have a lot of data and research around infant mortality. And even though black women are dying at these just astronomical rates, we haven't really looked at how, why and where. So that's one of the things we're gonna, um, be looking at and hope that like a California death certificate, there's a format that we can use so we can start collecting some of that data and it can help us do better. We have a lot of research, like I said, around the racism and the stresses and we need to get to the root cause by collecting some more in depth data.
Speaker 1: 04:29 Okay. And you mentioned implicit bias training. Do you have any idea of what that training will consist of?
Speaker 3: 04:37 We don't have a lot of the specifics at this time, um, just because it's going to be a, uh, very a collective effort. Um, but we have a lot of folks around the country who have been doing this work. We at black women for wellness too. A lot of this work, some of our partners at Adrien for racial justice have done a lot of this implicit bias training. So it's out there and we just want to make sure that it's something that will be effective for all stakeholders involved.
Speaker 1: 05:03 And you know, do you think that this legislation will fix the problem or is it just a first step based on what, you know?
Speaker 3: 05:10 I wouldn't call it a first step, um, because there have been first steps, but I would call it a major step, a major piece of the puzzle. We're going to have to do a lot of things, but policy is a very important in sort of attacking the structure, the structural racism that we're thinking. Um, and that's one of the big things. And then of course with the research piece around gathering information about the maternal mortality and morbidity. So it is a big piece. Uh, it won't be the only piece and it's not the first piece. We're very proud about what's happening and we know that this will make a difference.
Speaker 1: 05:44 It's a, it's a major step you say, and it's expected to be signed by Governor Gavin Newsom beyond Senate bill four 64. What would you like to see happen next?
Speaker 4: 05:53 [inaudible]
Speaker 3: 05:54 well, well, I would like to see, um, our entire healthcare system really become more aware of the way they treat pain patients, period. Um, and that the whole narrative around black women in our birthing experience changes. Um, we know a lot of times when black women are pregnant, it's not celebrated. You know, if a woman has a bunch of children, it's why should I have in another one or she's having a baby too late. There's, there's always these things around the narrative of black women having children and just the narrative of black women period. So black women deserve more respect. We deserve dignity in our everyday lives. And if we can start doing that, then of course, that dignity rolls over into the birthing experience. I've been speaking with Rana Granbury maternal and infant health program manager with black women for wellness. Brianna, thank you so much for joining us. Thank you. Have a great day.
Speaker 1: 00:00 Founded in 1986 diversionary theater set out to provide quality theater for the LGBT community. Matt Morrow is entering his fifth year as executive artistic director of the company and he previews its 34th season with KPBS Arts reporter Beth Aka Mondo.
Speaker 2: 00:20 Matt, you are entering your fifth year as artistic director here at diversionary theater. So let people know, what does an artistic director do? Are you kind of providing the theme or the direction that the theater is going in?
Speaker 3: 00:33 As the executive artistic director of diversionary, I provide the vision for the company. The biggest part of my job is that I program the main stage season of shows that we produce. The other part of my job is that I provide the organization with executive leadership. And so I do all of the budgeting. I do a lot of all of the oversight of marketing the season and fundraising for the season. And uh, I also work very closely with our board of trustees on ensuring the, uh, financial viability of the organization.
Speaker 2: 01:05 This is going to be diversionary 34th year. Is there any particular, uh, theme or direction that you feel this year's plays are kind of going towards?
Speaker 3: 01:17 Well, when I program a season of plays and musicals, I don't start reading the scripts with a particular theme in mind. One sort of reveals itself to me as I'm reading, uh, the scripts and uh, my producing associate and I read hundreds and hundreds of scripts every year. We usually start reading in the fall and read all winter to early spring and this season what emerged was the theme we are, and it's really about the entire LGBT community. I like to say that this season is our most inclusive season to date. It's about exploring the identity of everyone in our community. And this year we are especially proud to lean into the conversation around gender and gender nonconformity. So that's really exciting. I feel like that's at the forefront of our national conversation right now. You know, providing a platform for our gender nonconforming and Trans Community to be heard and seen, I think is really important right now at this moment in time.
Speaker 2: 02:23 And your season is kicking off this week and the first play his girlfriend. We just got to walk by the beautifully messy set that has all this paraphernalia of like music and kind of a femora and all sorts of fun stuff. What is this play about and why did you choose this to open the season with
Speaker 3: 02:43 girlfriend is a really sweet new musical. It's by Todd Almond and Matthew Sweet. It's sort of inspired by Matthew Sweet, Seminole nineties power pop album of the same name girlfriend. It's a jukebox musical, but it's, it tells an original of these two young men graduating from high school in 1993 and I'm slowly falling in love with each other and what that means in the 90s and what that means when you're 18 years old and looking at the rest of your life and determining who you are and who you want to be and navigating that really tricky road of identity. This piece in our season really explores a bit of our history as an LGBT community and it does so with a lot of optimism, a lot of sweetness. And it's a very tender coming of age love story. And I feel like it's just a really bright, powerful and optimistic way into our 34th season here at diversionary.
Speaker 2: 03:47 And for people who may not have come to the theater before, it's a intimate space where a musical like this, you are literally just a few feet away from the performers. So what is that like for the audience here? Yeah, we have
Speaker 3: 04:01 really intimate theater. It's just 106 seats. No matter where you are in the house, you're probably no more than eight feet away from the performers at any given time. And when you're doing a rock musical like this, you can feel it in your bones. You can really feel the music just sort of vibrate your person. Um, so you feel a greater sense of connection to the characters and to the story and you really feel like you're taken into their experience in a more visceral way.
Speaker 2: 04:30 This plays a musical, but you also have something like David Sedaris is Santa Lan diaries.
Speaker 3: 04:36 Well, what's fun about Santa Land Diaries is that we're actually rethinking our entire venue for it. So it is a one person show. Many people know Santillana diaries as the one person show based on David Sadara says landmark book from the 90s, the Santillana diaries, but we're producing it along with seasons greetings, a companion piece that's very rarely seen and season's greetings is based on a short story by David Sedaris about Mrs Dunbar and it's told in the form of a family newsletter and Mrs Dunbar details her apocalyptic year and what her family has gone through. And it's all about how this woman is working to try to keep our family together during the holidays. So when people come to diversionary for the Santillana and diaries, as soon as they walk into our lobby, they're going to be bombarded by the holiday spirit. Justin Humphries, this genius set designer is going to be working to recreate the Santa Land experience that you have when you go to Macy's. Uh, right when you walk in the door. Usually people when they come to see a show at diversionary, they come up the front steps with Santillana diaries. We're going to take them the backway and wind them up through the backstairs, all of which will be an immersive Santillana experience onto the stage. Brother, I'll meet Santa's, they'll get to set in Sanchez, get a picture taken and then enjoy the show.
Speaker 2: 06:01 And are there any other plays coming up in the season that you'd like to highlight for audiences that they might want to be looking forward to?
Speaker 3: 06:06 Sure. Well two, uh, the first is a world premier called a kind of by self in Oswald and Sylvan is a really fabulous trans play right based in Los Angeles. And his new play is about a writer trying to write his autobiography about his gender transition while he's navigating, um, uh, his love life and his relationship with his father who's just moved in with him. It's hilarious. It's moving and it's really insightful about, did the trans experience and I couldn't be more excited to be producing its world premier. And then we're also going to be ending the season with the San Diego Premier of the Broadway musical head over heels. This musical is written by the same creator of Avenue Q, Jeff Witty, uh, and it features the songs of the Go-Go's. It's told in a fairy tale form, but it's really about how we live right now. It's based upon the Arcadia by Sir Philip Sidney. And it tells a story of, of a royal family who embarks on a journey to save their beloved kingdom from it, from extinction. And along the way, uh, gender roles are up ended a in love is discovered in these various crazy ways, and it's all told to the iconic music of the Go-Go's, um, producing this rather ambitious and large Broadway musical on our intimate stage is going to be a really unique experience, not only for the artists, but a really special experience for the audience as well.
Speaker 2: 07:42 All right, well, I want to thank you very much for previewing your 34th season. Yes,
Speaker 3: 07:46 thank you, Beth. It's always great to sit down with you.
Speaker 2: 07:49 That was Beth huck Amando speaking with Matt Morrow. Diversionary theater kicks off its 34th season tonight with the opening of girlfriend.