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By Melina Kritikopolous
Mosaic Journalism Workshop
When Annie Martínez brought her son Nathaniel to Teatro Visión’s production of “The House on Mango Street,” she knew it was the perfect place for him to perform.
“Me as a mother, watching it, seeing my son’s eyes get this big,” she said. “I knew that where I was, was where I was going to continue to be and continue to bring him.”
Teatro Visión is a 35-year-old bilingual theater company in San Jose that focuses its original, community-based work on the struggles of Latinx and Chicanx people. On June 5, the group was awarded two grants from the California Arts Council, to provide funding for its upcoming shows.
The $18,000 Local Impact grant will support the company’s October production of “Macario,” and the $9,000 Arts Education Exposure grant will fund next spring’s youth production.
“The grant awards in themselves are a strong testament to our belief in the quality and the value of Teatro Visión’s arts programs to the community they serve,” said Anne Bown-Crawford, California Arts Council executive director.
Teatro Visión produces two mainstage shows every year, one in October for Día de los Muertos and one youth production in the spring, Managing Director Leigh Henderson said. It usually rents out the Mexican Heritage Plaza for its shows, providing projected supertitles in English or Spanish.
This year’s October performance will be “Macario,” based on Bruno Traven’s 1950 novela of the same name. The story, set in the viceregal era of Mexico, features a newly wealthy man who reflects on his life choices.
Teatro Visión’s newest original piece, “Raíces: El libro de los Caminos / Roots: Book of Journeys,” is a collaboration with a Mexico City street theater ensemble, La Quinta Teatro. It will premiere in October 2021.
The group also provides classes for children interested in theater, including an introduction to theater class from June 22 to July 20, and a youth voice class from June 12 to July 17.
Henderson said creators collaborate with Latinx and Chicanx groups around San Jose to create the stories for their pieces. The group’s October 2018 production, “Departera,” a modern take on Día de Los Muertos, came to life when playwright Evelina Fernández and composer Russell Rodríguez worked with Teatro Visión, talking to community members and absorbing real-life stories to inject into the play.
“By the time the piece was done, it was really very reflective of all this input that we had gotten from dozens and dozens of people who participated really creatively in this process,” Henderson said. “We want to make sure we are a space that is telling all of those stories.”
When actor Sergio Davila found Teatro Visión, he appreciated the opportunity to perform in Spanish.
“They are exposing a part of the Latino community to the Latino community — in Spanish,” Davila said. “They are giving a voice… to artists like me that are not very good in English.”
Many who work with Teatro Visión find that actors and staff bond like a family.
“I love the stage, but I feel like a lot of the magic happens behind the scenes,” actress Carolina Perez said. “I feel a beautiful sense of community and I love them and I know that they love me.”
Those who participate and those who watch are filled with pride in the work, according to Edith Macias, community engagement and marketing manager of Teatro Visión.
“When you’re sitting in the theater of the Mexican Heritage Plaza and you look at these little kids up there in their costumes, they’re so committed to their play, and making people laugh. . . You’re like ‘Oh, this is what it’s all about,’” Macias said.
When 13-year-old actor Nathaniel Martínez watched “The House on Mango Street,” in May 2018, he saw that Teatro Visión was something special, and he made his acting debut in the March 2019 production of “The Transition of Doodle Pequeño.”
Nathaniel approached a friend who had acted in the production. “I told her that her acting felt really real. It didn’t feel like acting; it felt like it was actually happening,” he said.
Teatro Visión’s community-infused storylines allow for touching productions.
“It’s about not just people coming to watch theater, but about creating theater that inspires people to act in their own lives, in their own communities,” Henderson said.
Thanks for sharing this story with the readers of La Oferta: Mosaic Journalism Workshop, a student project of the Dow Jones News Fund, Bay Area News Group, CCNMA: Latino Journalists of California, and San Jose State University.