Theatre in Latinx-Heavy Boyle Heights In Danger of Disappearing 

“If you believe in what were are doing, please support us now.                                                                         — Josefina Lopez 

By Dale Reynolds

Josefina López, Founding Artistic Director of CASA 0101 Theater in Boyle Heights in California recently announced that CASA 0101 the theater she founded 15 years ago is in danger of being closed due to financial difficulties.  “I opened CASA over 15 years ago to create opportunities for actors and writers and artists. This is the kind of place that I wanted when I was a little girl,” she said. “I thought this would be my way of giving back to my community in Boyle Heights. But, unfortunately we are on the brink of closing down because we can’t pay our rent, so we need your financial support.

Who?  What?  How Come?

The seventeen-year-old CASA 0101 theater, founded by the husband-and-wife team of Emmanuel Deleage and Josefina Lopez. Run by its active volunteer Board of Directors, CASA has been mostly critical success.  They’ve produced over a hundred productions on both the mainstage and its smaller Little Theatre a few doors down.

The critical success/acknowledgement of CASA has come from the largely Hispanic press and the smattering mainstream media which has paid attention.  It emanates from groundbreaking productions, as well as the progressive thinking behind the workshopsLopez initiated in acting, playwriting, screenwriting, born of her Master of Fine Arts degree in screenwriting from UCLA.   In addition Deleage’s Bachelor degree in World Arts and Culture (also from UCLA) and the mentoring he received from world-famous Peter Sellars, he of the radical re-think of opera and classical theatre, has influenced their often-superb work at CASA.  (It was his class in Art as a Moral Action that has had the most influence on Deleage’s artistic life.)

But the handsome producer is quick to acknowledge how Lopez had the vision to take over a failed storefront on 1st Street in Boyle Heights and convert it into a tiny theatre, from which the larger theatre evolved.  And since he had a non-profit structure, that when they married in 2002, they also married their individual passions into a 501(c)3 endeavor: theatre in the heart of a changing neighborhood, which now includes two Metro stops, situated across from new police station, and just west of the ancient Boyle Heights City Hall, followed in 2011 with the superbly-built 99-seat mainstage and art gallery.

Their mission was “to bring theatre to Boyle Heights, allowing us to tell powerful stories, as well as elevating local voices.” In addition, Deleage, who was born in France and brought over to the States as a two-year-old, feels, “Art is one of the ways to honor our responsibility to culture by raising consciousness, in addition to being entertaining.  We should be able to uncover insightful light on the problems that any community sustains.”

Aware of the lack of cultural amenities in the area, Lopez was motivated to launch CASA onto the consciousness of the community with the creation of productions that have tried to marry professionalism with a strengthening of community involvement, adding the on-going classes in writing and acting.  Local politicians took note, awarding them with several Recognition Certificates, an LA WEEKLY 2016 Best Theatre to Serve its Community, and A 2009 Best Plays to Get the Acting Bug.    “We were filling that void by offering the folk who live here access to the telling of Latino stories, which traditionally has not been told well enough in school or on stage or in films, said Deleage. “It felt like it was a worthy effort.”

So what has happened to bring about their financial dilemma?  Well, first, CASA is no different than other Los Angeles County theatres, or most any theatre in the world, facing strong competition for audience, was overwhelming.  To make matters worse, the changes from the local Actors Equity Association, the governing guild that sets the guidelines for theaters, who have impacted the cost of employing talent — which essentially rises the cost of  staging a production.

In addition to the rising costs to run a theater, the few foundations that support ongoing arts have never matched the needs of the smaller theatres, the thinking maybe being, that the arts are only a hobby of the well-to-do, instead of seeing art as being crucial to a democratic society, which pays dividends in the long-term. That means theatres have had to depend mostly on box office receipts or donations.

CASA 0101 has also suffered from a year of a drop in their box-office receipts.  Lopez and Deleage also recently opened a restaurant three blocks away from the theatre, Casa Fina, which might have taken too much time away from needed-focus on CASA’s fund-raising requirements, allowing for a perfect storm which now threatens their survival.  

How to Help the Arts Continue in Boyle Heights

Lopez and Deleage and the CASA Board of Directors are now focused on a “350 Campaign” to save the theater.  They are seeking to find 350 individuals who will donate $25 a month each, to pay for rent, equipment, actors and publicity.  As of today, they are nearing 100, persons can contribute.   DONATE HERE

The “Why” question is answered by their accomplishments in presenting excellent theatre, encouraging folk to enter their arts-classes, as well as their out-reach to local youth, nurturing a new generation of Latinx audiences.  One of their notable successful stories of youth is actor Johnny Ortiz, who came to them a troubled youth and has gone on to a rising career television and film with featured and starring roles on ABC’s American Crime series and films McFarland, and the lead in  Soy Nero.  By their own count, dozens of young talents have gone on to college and followed other paths because of CASA’s nurturing of individual inspirations and passions.  Two of them, for instance, recently performed with Culture Clash in a new show, SAPO, at the Getty Villa.

They have also established more of the tradition of attending and supporting the arts.  Deleage has noted that most of the immigration in the past hundred years have been folk from the farming tradition, not from the more sophisticated city dwellers.  “Theatre it supposed to explore its spiritual and communal roots; we are determined to give a voice to the voiceless.”

To that end, they are opening their fourth annual Brown and Out Festival February 9th — ten short plays, The Celebration of The LBGTQ+ Latinxperience , which explores why there’s still far too much stigma in the Community towards these people; they want to highlight these stories in order to fight internalized homophobia and the shaming of the non-gay population.

And, in a nutshell, that’s what CASA 0101 does:  going out on a limb to forcefully explore new avenues of theatre – the day-to-day lives of the Latinx peoples.  “Josefina, I and our staff want to continue to give back to our community by being the voice of those who aren’t often heard.”  This includes their Chicanas, Cholas, y Chisme Festival of Short Plays, now in its sixth year, on what it means to be Latina today, opening March 16th. “We are a community theatre that strives to produce the most professional theatre possible.”

Long may they wave!

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