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Puppets Grandmother and Grandfather. Photo by Javier Guillen

Travel back to the beginning of time with El Teatro Campesino and Center Theatre Group, at Grand Park October 10th and 11th.

On October 10th and 11th, El Teatro Campesino, the renowned Chicano theatre company, will be at Grand Park to perform their latest work “Popol Vuh: Heart of Heaven”.  Brought to Los Angeles by Center Theatre Group, they are set to share a stunning visual rendering of the Mayan creation myth.

Generated by a yearlong process between company members and Boyle Heights’ residents, “Popol Vuh” brings the heartland of California within the heart of Los Angeles.

Diane Rodriguez, Associate Artistic Director at Center Theatre Group, shares personal experiences with with El Teatro Campesino.  In her formative years as a theatre artist, she traveled the world as a member of ETC.  She stopped by Grand Park to offer a unique perspective on this upcoming collaboration.

“It’s an authentic California company that grew out of the land practically”, says Rodriguez.  In 1965, founder Luis Valdez approached Cesar Chavez in Delano.

“He went to Cesar and said ‘I want to start this theatre company that would organize farmworkers and educate them on the issues of the day, within the strike’, and Cesar said ‘You can do that, but you have to be an organizer, and you have to do that at night.’ And so that’s what he did.”

The activist spirit rang loud amongst the company.  They drew from the land, they worked with their surroundings.  Performing in the backs of pick-up trucks, Valdez summoned artists from the midst of the farm community, to share their message throughout the Central Valley.

A performance of El Teatro Campesino featuring Don Sacato, location unknown. John A. Kouns. 1966

By the mid 1970’s, ETC had become a force in the global theatre scene, touring the world and worked with artists such as Peter Brook.  Their collaboration with Center Theatre Group came in 1978 with Valdez’s landmark “Zoot Suit”, forging a relationship with the Los Angeles community that still runs deep.

Birthed directly from the community, the concept of a collaborative ensemble has always been important.  “Within El Teatro, it was an ensemble”, reflects Rodriguez “we would improvise the work, and Luis Valdez would then script it.”  That same collective spirit is alive in the “Heart of Heaven.”

In this case, locals are thrown right into the ring and are letting their creativity thrive, allowing the collective ensemble consciousness to steer the play.  “On top of that”, adds Rodriguez, who has sat in on rehearsals “they’re larger than life!  You have these community members being treated as professionals.”

The puppet Kukumatz. Photo by Javier Guillen

Diane was blown away by how quickly these 40 performers adapted to the work.  “They’re moving, they’re tumbling balls, and they’re carrying puppets, and its like, ‘Oh My God, it’s so complicated!’”

Staging the piece in Grand Park seemed ideal to those involved.  “El Teatro’s project was perfect because it worked with a community that is very close to us, the Boyle Heights community and East Los Angeles.  They were able to do a whole yearlong process with these community members, and culminate in the presentation right in the middle of Downtown Los Angeles,” beams Rodriguez, “It’s a very symbolic claiming of the land.”

“How Popol Vuh: Heart of Heaven, in terms of being a creation myth it told, is visual, which makes it very universal.”  The universality, as it seeks to break down cultural preconceptions, make the Grand Park a fantastic backdrop.   “Sharing a creation myth from another culture is always universal.  And the physicalization, people will relate to it.”

“It’ll be a great gift for Los Angeles, even if you pass by and happen to catch it”, Rodriguez added.   Get ready to turn back the clock to the beginning of time, in the Park for Everyone.