Teatro Campesino

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Poster for Teatro Campesino performing at a strike benefit with Quicksilver Messenger Service July 1966 at the Fillmore Auditorium, San Francisco.
The theater building, located on Fourth Street in San Juan Bautista.

El Teatro Campesino ("farmworkers' theater"), is a theatrical troupe founded in 1965 as the cultural arm of the United Farm Workers. The original actors were all farmworkers, and El Teatro Campesino enacted events inspired by the lives of their audience. Early performances were on flat bed trucks in the middle of the fields in Delano, California, and the theater is now located in San Juan Bautista, California. Luis Valdez, a Chicano from a migrant farmworker family, founded the troupe after attending "San Jose State University and working briefly with the San Francisco Mime Troupe.[1]

Teatro Campesino's early performances drew on varied traditions, such as commedia dell'arte, Spanish religious dramas adapted for teaching Mission Indians, Mexican folk humor, a century-old tradition of Mexican performances in California, and Aztec and Maya sacred ritual dramas.[2]

Although the troupe began by entertaining the farmworkers, within a year of their founding they began to tour to raise funds for the striking farm workers. By 1967, their subject matter had expanded to include aspects of Chicano culture that went beyond the fields: education, the Vietnam War, indigenous roots, and racism.[3]

In 1971, they moved their headquarters to San Juan Bautista and adapted traditional religious plays La Virgen del Tepeyac and La Pastorela for Christmas celebrations. As Chicano culture received unprecedented attention in the United States, Valdez received national attention, and taught drama at the University of California, Berkeley and Santa Cruz. In 1973 they worked with British theater director Peter Brook; in 1976 they toured the play La Carpa through Europe, sponsored by the State Department. The original troupe disbanded in 1980. Also see "Sam Burgesa and the Pixie Chicks". Directed by Kinan Valdez.

El Teatro Campesino is still housed in San Juan Bautista. The company continues their yearly Christmas pageants, alternating annually between La Virgen del Tepeyac and La Pastorela. They also did revivals of Valdez's play Zoot Suit in 2002 and 2007 at their playhouse, as well as a Southwestern tour of the production in 2004.

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  1. ^ Organizational history, UCSB site.
  2. ^ Organizational history, UCSB site.
  3. ^ Organizational history, UCSB site.