Reflections on El Teatro Campesino Workshop w/ Kinan Valdez


I don't know about you all, but I can't believe that we're almost at the end of the 2014. I just know I'm going to blink and boom--Christmas! Yet, as I look back on this year, I realize that I was pretty obsessed with one question: What is the meaning/purpose of Art? And the more artists I meet in the Bay Area, the more I am convinced that this question is being pondered by others in the community.

As luck would have it, Kinan Valdez (Artistic Director) was conducting a two-day workshop surrounding the principles of El Teatro Campesino; as part of Professor Angela Marino's Teatro 114 class at UC Berkeley. I signed up as an alumni/guest; secretly hoping that my personal question might be addressed during the process.

One of my favorite things we discussed is In Lak'ech. It means you are the other me --or-- tu eres mi otro yo. It repeats the valuable lesson that we are all connected, that we are reflections of ourselves. If I harm you, I harm myself --for example. With this principle --everyone in the community is equal and everyone has a voice. Kinan explained, In Lak'ech is about "mutual respect, (one must) trust, respect, and commit to another human being." This concept reminded me a lot of the process we went through during the From the Field to the Table experience I had in the Fall of 2012 with Urban Bush Women's Leadership Institute. On the outside, listened and jotted down some notes. On the inside I was jumping for joy as my question was being addressed in a way.

On the first day, we split up in groups and created landscapes with our bodies. The landscapes represented problematic topics that Teatro 114 has been discussing in their classroom. Images of  racial hierarchies, police brutality, and border patrol violence were explored. Coming up with the images was easy, everyone got into their forms and we embodied the issue. Then Kinan asked us to change the problem into a different landscape.

This part of the workshop was fascinating for me. We all sat there staring at the problem, and one by one we each took part in making a landscape of despair, sorrow and confusion twist-turn into something hopeful, positive, and empowering. Group communication was key. And one by one, limb by limb -- the bodies were shifted to reflect how humans should treat each other. And you know what happened in the process of this exercise? EVERYTHING. Everything was suddenly possible. Solutions crystalized before our eyes, and all of it without the use of words. What can we do to get from point A (obstacle) to point B (solution). It wasn't an easy process, but it was encouraging. Everyone pitched in as a community, and many voices were heard in order to erase the issue. How easily we forget that we are all connected; that what we do impacts our surrounding.

With the efforts of everyone pitching in, everyone having an equal voice, and everyone involving their truth -- negative assumptions, corruption and alienation can be reduced to nothing. Issues can be molded, changed and baked into something edible, delicious, progressive, nurturing, bountiful and wonderful. And this change can be shared because it means community.

On our last day as a group, there was more movement involved. We talked about how the Sphere is always on the move, it can jump over any obstacle, and it has the power to create new paths. We pushed the ball around as a group, saw it bounce, saw it curve, saw it ease it's way from hand to hand to hand. Then, we used our Vertical throughness to balance on the soccer ball, so as to see ourselves as part of the change. And the movement went from Low Level to Mid Level and finally High Level when we began to toss the balls to a partner across the room. We had to adjust our bodies to receive the ball; allowing it's momentum to mold how we react to our environment.

What's more the soccer ball brought back great memories of being a little girl and playing soccer with my dad. It was PLAY! Another thing I forget to do when I make/create works. Sometimes I get so focused on the end (because I am a Late Axis creature), that I forget to live in the moment---playing and exploring is so important. A valuable step in the process of any type of creation. In a board room, playing lives next to brainstorming, improvising, finding alternate solutions. It's just a value all around.

Which brings me back to my question. As far as I can tell, human beings were given a gift. We were given life---and we are capable of creating. We're out there in the world with our stories, knowledge and experiences. We bring that to the plate. And some of us are private about our stories. Some of us prefer to carry that within us, and that's absolutely fine. In fact it's beautiful!

But there are a few of us out there---who can't help but burst at the seems to share our story. The ARTIST and the body of work, that is to say, their creation---their art! The 2:00am woman with a cup of coffee and a dirty keyboard, the woman hanging off a trapeze by her hair, the jazz musician in Kansas City polishing his brass, the indie filmmaker making music videos just to get by and working on a feature storyboard at night, the comedian inside a theater box office waiting for their shift to end so they can run to open mic at Ice House, the brown girl in a circle of dancers doubting her skills because she studied folklore instead of ballet -- these beautiful creatures, these Artists. All coming to the world with their personal stories, with their different voices, with their SOLUTIONS. Everyone, valuable.

Some of us tread quietly, some of us stomp on the ground and scream out our names when we enter a room, some of us like to work in the background, some of us tattoo our passion on our foreheads, and some of us like to wear a mask. No matter what type of artist one identifies as, the one thing I love about Art and the art maker is that we (much like the Sphere) are always on the move. We're always wanting to find that human connection to "x" -- could be a person, could be nature, could be science, could be anything!

As of today, for me, the purpose of art is to connect with a human being; through social change and through storytelling. This workshop was a reminder of that. We are all connected; might as well help each other. Positive change for all! Especially the hungry artists trying to splash a little color in communities that seem to find themselves in constant adversity. In Lak'ech. You are the other me; in order to love myself I must love you...

Yeah, that sounds about right.