Colloquium: “Staging the Movement: El Teatro Campesino’s Participatory Democracy”

November 29, 2018 - 12:30pm to 2:00pm

Location and Address

Humanities Center (602 CL)

During the 1960s and 1970s, American minority artists involved in social movement activism produced work that would seek to revolutionize the relationship between art and politics. My book tells the story of the artistic side of organizing during the civil rights movement, what I refer to as cultural activism. Through performance and experimental media, creative production offered ways for people to debate political ideologies while still maintaining solidarity with the movement. I argue that internal dissent, rather than unity, shaped creative expression emerging from civil-rights-era social movements. The chapter I will workshop centers on the early plays of El Teatro Campesino, a collective ensemble that developed from the strikes and protests that would lead to the creation of the United Farm Workers of America. What began on the picket lines as actos on flatbed trucks became a touchstone for Chicanx/Latinx theater and performance art. Scholars overlook these early performances as didactic and simplistic; however, I argue that the actos go beyond simply performing oppression and were meant to provoke questions and debates about Chicanx identity. I place the actos within a larger theater history: the avant-garde theater scene in San Francisco that influenced El Teatro’s founder, Luis Valdez; political theater that recalled the Federal Theater Project and Soviet Blue Blouse Living Newspaper performances; and Brecht’s epic theater. I look at how El Teatro used performativity to explore the uncomfortable spaces between ethnic or cultural expression and working class solidarity. Using material from El Teatro Campesino’s archives, this chapter intends to present new readings that connect the group to other performance troupes of civil-rights-era cultural activism.

Reading available here.

Event Flier

Elizabeth Rodriguez Fielder (English), with responses from Bill Scott (English) and Mike Sell (IUP, English)