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San Jose Beckons to El Teatro Campesino

El Teatro Campesino, built around the groundbreaking works of playwright/filmmaker Luis Valdez, is probably America’s most famous Latino theater company. But for years it has been based not in a prominent urban center, but rather in the small town of San Juan Bautista, near Salinas in San Benito County.

Temporarily, however, El Teatro is focusing its creative energy on Los Angeles, as it prepares to present “Bandido!” in a co-production with the Mark Taper Forum, opening June 8.

And within the next week, the company hopes to receive the go-ahead to begin a whole new phase of its life--in San Jose.

Last fall, the struggling company faced a deficit that reportedly reached $500,000 (though company officials declined to confirm that figure). Half the permanent staff was laid off, and the spring tour of “I Don’t Have to Show You No Stinking Badges"--which would have come to several venues in the Southland, among other places--was canceled.

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Since then, the deficit has been reduced by 75%, according to El Teatro managing director Philip Esparza. And the company plans to “shed a major skin” by moving most of its production activity out of San Juan Bautista into the old Jose Theatre in downtown San Jose.

“We’re out of the loop” in sparsely populated San Benito County, which just doesn’t have the resources that are necessary to support El Teatro, Esparza said.

However, the move hinges on a vote of the San Jose city council, expected sometime this week. El Teatro’s use of the Jose Theatre, which would get a $13-million publicly funded renovation, is only one part of a large redevelopment package that will be before the council. The package also would provide a new home for the San Jose Repertory Theatre, among other cultural institutions.

While they’re waiting for the news, Valdez, Esparza and two other staff members are working on “Bandido!” at the Taper--where El Teatro’s biggest production, “Zoot Suit,” also got its start.

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“Bandido!” has a budget estimated by Esparza as $800,000-plus. Besides the normal Taper production funds, this includes a $100,000 AT&T; Foundation grant that El Teatro brought with it, $100,000 from the Taper’s giant Latino Theatre Initiative funded by the Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Fund, and a $25,000 grant from philanthropist/producer Timothy Childs. The Childs grant had originally gone to playwright David Mamet, who returned it after he and the Taper clashed over the casting of the Taper’s aborted production of his “Oleanna.” Childs agreed to reroute the money into “Bandido!”

DOS BANDIDOS: Pancho Villa, too, was a bandido . The Bilingual Foundation of the Arts, currently presenting “Pancho Villa and the Naked Lady” at Los Angeles Theatre Center, has arranged a deal with the Mark Taper Forum so some Angelenos can see two bandidos for the price of one. The offer was available by mail order only, and the flyers went to lists of single ticket buyers at both theaters. For $25, recipients of the mailings can buy tickets to both “Bandido!” (normal price range: $30-$37.50) and “Pancho Villa” (normal price: $15). In addition, Taper subscribers are being offered discounted tickets to “Pancho” and Bilingual subscribers can get discounted tickets to “Bandido!”

The deals were inspired by the Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Fund, which last year awarded grants to both theaters as part of an effort to diversify theater audiences.

GET RICH QUICK: As an example of requests that come into Theatre LA’s job bank, the organization published this (fictional) composite want ad in one of its publications:

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“WANTED: Equity Waiver theatre seeks energetic, brilliant self-starter. Duties to include: box office, publicity, audience development, mailings, fund raising, bookkeeping, concessions, light janitorial. May be some deferred pay. MFA and 3 yrs. experience required. Must own flatbed truck."*


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