Making an Impact Through Theater at Mission and Throughout the LACCD
By Evan Henerson
Many educational experiences begin and end within the four walls of a college classroom, but that won’t be the case for Theatre 285: Directed Study. This new class being offered during the spring semester will begin at L.A. Mission College and then bring students into a world-class performance space at the Los Angeles Theatre Center (LATC) in downtown L.A.
By the end of the course, if all goes to plan, those students will have landed in a new state of mind filled with inspiring, resonant ideas. How’s that for making an impact?
A partnership between LACCD and LATC owner/operator the Latino Theater Company (LTC), the Impact Community Engagement Initiative is what has made this experience class a reality. Students from any LACCD college can participate in person or virtually in the class, which will be held from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. from April 11 through June 6. Coursework will involve seeing four productions at LATC — where LTC also puts on the shows — and discussing the works with the productions’ designers and artists.
Officials from both organizations hope that this five-year initiative will both fill the classroom and foster a new appreciation for the arts and cultural diversity for LACCD students, faculty and staff.
“The colleges are doing things differently, and I think this partnership is a great example of a direction we need to go in terms of expanding our resources and opportunities for faculty and students,” said Armida Ornelas, PhD, president of Mission College. “Prioritizing the arts is new terrain. We need the arts to understand our communities.”
Class instructor José Luis Valenzuela might be the perfect man to help instill that understanding. In addition to teaching at the School of Theater Film and Television at UCLA, Valenzuela is the founder and artistic director of the LTC.
Before the pandemic, he was in discussions with LACCD administrators about ways to reach community college students, a demographic that he believes might have limited access to the arts. A high percentage of LACCD students, many of whom are students of color, are homeless or live below the poverty line.
“We got interested in figuring out how we can engage this community in the understanding and history of theater, especially Latino theatre,” said Valenzuela, who is directing a production of the play “Melancholia,” which opened March 24 at L.A. City College. “Mission College and LACCD have been great to work with, and these students are so hungry. It feels like they appreciate the idea of experiencing something new to them.”
“When I used to teach this class at UCLA, the cap was 100 students,” Valenzuela said. “This is a pilot program, so we’ll see how many people we can engage. We will take as many as we can get.”
The plays include the world premieres of “She” by Marlow Wyatt and “Sleep With the Angels” by Evelina Fernandez, as well as a visiting production of “André & Dorine” by Spain’s Kulunka Theatre. Admission to the performances will be free of charge for class members and will include discussions with the artists. Metro’s new fare-free GoPass program will allow students to ride the Metro gratis, helping to keep the
The shows at LATC may be the first time some students will have experienced a live performance. Valenzuela said that it can be impactful when audiences see people like themselves reflected on the stage.
“It’s important to understand that Chicano theater in this part of the country began as a political action,” Valenzuela said. “These plays are about issues that are happening in the community. I’ve heard people say that just to have a Latino body on the stage is a statement because we don’t have that many opportunities.”
“Our students can relate to themes of social justice, emancipation and empowerment,” Mission College President Ornelas said. “Theater isn’t just about seeing a play. It can be very emancipatory in terms of the themes our students can relate to and identify with. It’s very exciting and I’m really appreciative of the resources that José Luis has brought.”
Students can register for Theatre 285 Section 28049 (in-person) or section 27213 (online) here. For more information about the Latino Theater Company and the Impact Initiative, call 213-489-0994 or visit www.latinotheaterco.org