The Santa Ana winds are as hot as the dragon’s breath, they blow across the play yard as twenty-two first graders stand dressed in peasant clothing, reciting the chorus to St. George and the Dragon. I am St. George. I fought with all my six-year old might to have this part; I am about to fight the dragon. I am wearing a red velvet tunic emblazoned with a golden cross; my wooden sword, spray-painted silver, is resting in its scabbard, and my hand is clenched on its hilt. I see the huge head of the dragon, made of cardboard, appear over the hill, and I am ready to smite his snarling, evil spirit. I am not Helen; I am St. George, and I have the strength to wield this sword and raise my voice to save my fellow villagers. I was a different person with new capabilities; I embodied strength and confidence. I desired justice for the villagers. This was the first time that I felt the transcendence from my six-year-old everyday reality to that of a powerful being– capable of magnificent acts. I became well aware of the power of storytelling and the sense of collective consciousness which theater provides for mankind.
I believe that theater integrates us; it is something that we see, hear, and feel as a group, yet we each have individual impressions of it. Even though the art of theater requires intense effort from each individual, the vital element is solidarity. Theater is like a mural of community. In our current culture, the progression of technology and media has weakened the soul connection between man and nature. It’s as if we are trees growing without roots. The act of creating a play forces the individual to develop roots that bind one to a sense of understanding his or her place in a particular environment.
In the summer of 2006, I saw Culture Clash’s production of Water and Power, a story that depicts the political struggle between two Chicano brothers, (one, a city councilman; the other, a high-ranking LAPD officer) in Los Angeles, I had a deeper understanding of my roots, my home, my family, my purpose. After the show, the restaurant downstairs was filled with people conversing about the dynamics of city politics and how it affects them. It made me think about how the people who really needed to see this play could never afford it, and how art and theater are not even available to people who live below a certain economic status.
This insight lead me to read Luis J. Rodriguez’s book, Always Running, the story of his former gang life in Los Angeles during the 1960’s. A significant moment in his life’s story occurs when he is introduced to Teatro Campesino, of Cesar Chavez’s Farm Workers Union (a Chicano Theater company that created productions to educate and help farm workers fight for social, economic and civil rights). This encounter helped him realize that the life he was living was one of indiscretion. Theater gave him the inspiration to strive to be a better human being. He began painting murals as well as writing and performing plays that demanded peace and social justice within his gang infested high school. Through theater, I feel the same fire that gave Luis J. Rodriguez the inspiration to not only improve himself, but to effect a healthier consciousness within his community. Imagine if all children had the chance to be ignited by theater in the same way that I was as St. George– to awaken trust and strength in oneself, and to give education, inspiration and even catharsis to one’s fellow man.
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