Within Denver’s artistic community Tony Garcia is a well-known figure. The executive artistic director of Su Teatro Cultural and Performing Arts Center, Tony has cemented his legacy both as an actor, writer, producer and orator by dedicating most of his professional life to the theater.
This year he plans to bring the stage adaptation of another beloved figure in Colorado – former Westword columnist Gustavo Arellano – with a adaptation of Arellano’s revered column “¡Ask a Mexican!”
“We’re doing the stage adaptation,” Garcia said. “We’ll open that in September (at Su Teatro in Denver), but we’re also performing it in Albuquerque and San Jose and Pueblo. It’s going to be one of those shows that will probably be around with us for a while.”
Born in the midst of the Chicano Rights movement in Denver, Su Teatro began as a small, sketch-based group performing “actos” in and around Denver. The “actos” were satirical and politically driven sketches performed for a mostly Hispanic audience that would understand and feel emboldened from the message. In the summer of 1972, Garcia, who was focusing on his abilities as a musician at the time, saw the troupe perform and decided that is what he wanted to do.
“It took a long time to come to that place where I thought I was going to do theater,” Garcia said. “I joined the theater company as a musician, but my interest in school was to be a writer. I thought I was going to be a novelist.”
A high school dropout, Garcia earned his GED and began his writing pursuits as a journalist major at the Community College of Denver.
“Eventually, when I got to the University of Colorado (Denver) I thought I needed to know more about literature, so I became a literature major,” he said. “When we started writing short plays, I realized that the only way I could control that voice was to direct them. So I started developing both those skills as a writer and director.”
Like many Chicano playwrights, Garcia said a lot of his influence came from playwright Luis Valdez whose body of work includes “La Bamba”, “Zoot Suit” and “The Cisco Kid.”
“Luis introduced bilingualism to the American theater stage,” Garcia said. “He was great at code-switching. He spoke in a language that I understood, that I grew up with and went back-and-forth between Spanish and English.”
Garcia has continued to enhance the reach of Su Teatro beyond Denver including Southern Colorado and New Mexico. That has allowed him and the company to create a conversation that does not push an agenda, but rather opens the floor to discourse.
“There is a whole love-hate relationship that we have with the United States,” Garcia said. “It’s, ‘we love immigrants, we love their labor, we just don’t want them in our schools.’ Those contradictions don’t go away, because we have to evolve as a society. What the Teatro does, and did then, is it puts us in a place to have that discourse.”
He added that a performance at Su Teatro is not the same as in other theaters.
“Everything we do is part of that conversation,” he said. “Whether it’s the music that we’re playing in the lobby; whether it’s the tamales that we’re selling at the bar; whether it’s that you take all your food inside to the theater; whether it’s that you’re expected to participate. This is not a ‘we perform, you accept’ dynamic. All of those things are important statements as to how we fit in to the fabric of the United States.”
For more information on Su Teatro including touring shows visit www.suteatro.org.