By Antonio Mejias, Guest Blogger
Anyone who’s ever been to a play at Casa 0101 knows the drill. Right before the beginning of a production, the director would advise from the stage: “If you need to go to the bathroom please do so now, our only facility is in the back and you need to cross the stage to get to it.”
No wonder the two restrooms in a bright, spacious lobby were highlights of a recent community tour of the new Casa 0101 theater in Boyle Heights. The new Casa 0101, near the corner of 1st and St. Louis Streets, boasts nearly five times the square footage of the original space just a block down the street. It has seating for 99 patrons, dressing rooms for the performers, rehearsal spaces and classrooms and a lobby that doubles as art gallery/exhibition space. And restrooms!
The new space is a promise kept by Casa 0101 founder Josefina López, the Boyle Heights playwright and activist who established her theater company at a former bridal shop in 2000. From the tiny storefront she presented her work and that of local young playwrights, plays dealing with issues like immigration, family ties, gender politics and sexuality from a Latino perspective. All this offered a theatrical experience rarely lived on the main stages of Los Angeles. Part of the company’s stated mission is to nurture “the future storytellers of Los Angeles who will someday transform the world.”
At an open house last month, members of the volunteer staff showed off the new theater to Boyle Heights residents, who make up an important segment of the Casa 0101 audience. Visitors were treated to a performance in the lobby by a children’s acting class before taking a grand tour of the facilities that ended in the main stage, where veteran Casa 0101 performers recreated some of their best moments from the company’s first ten years. A monologue by company veteran Miriam Peniche, performing as a Boyle Heights elotera, brought down the house before López addressed the group.
“I wanted to create a space where our history as Latinos get acknowledged,” she told the audience. “Where our contributions as women, what women bring to humanity, get acknowledged on stage.”
López reminded the audience that Peniche had been on the original production of López best-known work, Real Women Have Curves. She also will perform in the 20th anniversary production of the play, which will mark the theater’s official opening on Sept. 9. The new production will be directed by Corky Domínguez, Casa 0101’s new artistic director, and will be performed in English on weekend evenings and in Spanish on Saturday afternoons, through Oct. 22. Twenty-dollar tickets are still a bargain, but in keeping with the group’s other mission of bringing the arts to Boyle Heights, local residents can buy $15 tickets and Spanish performances are only $12.
The original space, now endearingly dubbed “Little Casa 0101,” will remain open. It’s first fall production will be Brown & Out, a new festival of short plays about the Latino gay experience, opening Sept. 23 for three weeks. Tickets for that are $15, $12 (seniors and students) and $10 (local residents).
Casa 0101 is hardly a moneymaking enterprise. While the non-profit has received some funding from city and county coffers, Lopez and her husband, Emmanuel Deleage, had to put up their home as collateral for a loan to finance the new theater. The company still depends largely on ticket sales and donations and can only afford salaries for two paid staffers.
Creating a community theater venue has always been a personal mission for López, who grew up undocumented in Boyle Heights, with plenty to say but no place to express herself.
“It sucks when you feel you’re invisible and you grow up watching TV and nothing shows you that you matter, that you’re important,” she told Casa 0101 visitors. “I wanted to create a space where the stories that I think are important get to be important for others as well.
“I realized many years ago that it’s going to [take] our community, women demanding their rightful place in the world, to transform things. This is just the beginning of something great. It’s finally our turn.”