Oral Histories

Interview of Guillermo Aviles-Rodriguez

Artistic director of Watts Village Theater Company (WVTC), which collaborates with its community to produce work focused around pertinent social issues. Faculty at California State University, Northridge.
Community-Engaged Theater in Los Angeles
COVID-19 Pandemic
Biographical Note:
Artistic director of Watts Village Theater Company (WVTC), which collaborates with its community to produce work focused around pertinent social issues. Faculty at California State University, Northridge.
Collings, Jane
Aviles-Rodriguez, Guillermo
Persons Present:
Aviles-Rodriguez and Collings.
Place Conducted:
Sessions one and two: Aviles-Rodriguez's home; Session three: Aviles-Rodriguez's office at Mission Valley College in Los Angeles, California. Because of the necessity of restricting personal contact during the COVID-19 pandemic, the fourth session was conducted by the telephone.
Supporting Documents:
Records relating to the interview are located in the office of the UCLA Library's Center for Oral History Research.
Interviewer Background and Preparation:
The interview was conducted by Jane Collings, principal editor and interviewer, UCLA Center for Oral History Research; Ph.D., Critical Studies in Film and Television, UCLA.Collings prepared for the interviews by reviewing material on the history of Watts Village Theater Company and on the community-based theater movement.
Processing of Interview:
The transcript is a verbatim transcription of the recording. Sessions one through three were was transcribed by a professional transcribing agency using a list of proper names and specialized terminology supplied by the interviewer. Session four was transcribed by machine transcribing software and audit-edited by student staff. Aviles-Rodriguez was then given an opportunity to review the transcript and made a few corrections and additions. Those corrections were entered into the text without further editing or review on the part of the Center for Oral History Research staff.
7.75 hrs.
Regents of the University of California, UCLA Library.
Series Statement:
The Community-Engaged Theater in Los Angeles series seeks to document the work of a grouping of theater companies in Los Angeles whose mission combines an artistic focus with explicit attention to social justice and community building. The companies included use a working method that seeks creative input from the communities in which they are staging work and make concerted efforts to solicit feedback from audiences regarding the political and social themes of the work once staged. As well, these companies have received acclaim and recongition from the theater world. Companies included in the series, once it is complete, will include Cornerstone Theater Company, Watts Village Theater Company, Los Angeles Poverty Department and East L.A. Rep.
Family background—Family's agrarian background—Mother is offered social services for newborn while in the hospital—The stigma of using food stamps—Mother's focus on education for her children—Mother buys a house—Restrictive covenants in LA—The Central Ave. music scene—The demographics and culture of Watts—The upwardly mobile aspirations of Latinos—The birth of siblings brings responsibility for Aviles-Rodriguez—The ethnic and racial make-up of students at elementary school—First exposure to white people at college—Finds commonalities with white people while at college—Experiences homesickness while at University of Utah—Attends Salesian High School—Corporal punishment—Parenting roles in Aviles-Rodriguez's life—The import of parenting instructions—The damage done by the internalization of low expectations—Class and race division in America—The social justice message at St. Bartholomew School—The Socratic teaching method at Salesian High School—The social justice message that can be found among Catholic organizations—Attends Salesian High School—Corporal punishment at school—Lack of male family figure—Interests at school—Career or job aspirations—Outstanding mentoring of students at Salesian High School—The decision to attend Salesian High School—The long commute to and from school—Sports at high school—Achieves academic success at University of Utah—Inspired to go to college instead of entering military by participation in Cornerstone Theater show—Reasons Aviles-Rodriguez considered the military—Theater while at high school—Importance of a male role model for boys—A moment of self-realization upon arrival at University of Utah—An episode of racial pre-conceptions in Aviles-Rodriguez's neighborhood—Father Greg Boyle's work in the gang community—Aviles-Rodriguez's sense of unease in his new house—Participation in a Cornerstone Theater show, Los Faustinos, in his Watts neighborhood —Performs with Quentin Drew in Cornerstone show Sid Arthur—An aside on how Aviles-Rodriguez played a preponderance of gardener roles while a master's student at University of California, San Diego—Meets Lynn Manning—Manning and Drew originate the Watts Theater Company—A schism at Watts Theater Company produces the Watts Village Theater Company—Watts Labor Community Action Committee—Early initiatives of Watts Village Theater Company (WVTC)—Meets the challenges of teaching at Jordan High School—Similar set of challenges with students at Fremont High School—Teaches theater at Eagle Rock High School—Produces Ubu Roi at Eagle Rock High School—Successfully pursues a teaching position at LA Mission College—The importance of having a positive attitude—Meet Me At Metro—Importance of planning—The staging of The Unrequited in Watts an embodiment of Cornerstone empowering the Watts community through the original WVTC—The "Starbucks" model as a business model for making theater that brings audiences to attend theater—A particularly difficult student at Jordan High School—Teaching philosophy—Social services available in Watts—The dearth of choices on the American political scene—Missed opportunities to cast Latinas and Latinos in film roles—Aviles-Rodriguez's insistence on introducing complexity into history lectures.
The reception that Cornerstone Theater received from Watts residents—Aviles-Rodriguez struck by fact that the character of the devil is played by a white actor—Impressed by the professionalism of Cornerstone production process—Equity rules followed in production—Appreciates being educated and treated with respect throughout the theater production process with Cornerstone—A good reception from the community to the Los Faustinos production in Watts—Feels working with Cornerstone changed his life—The serendipity and unpredictability of opportunity—Juliette Carillo—The important community work achieved by the Cornerstone residency in Watts—The ability of small theater groups to serve communities in ways that the large LA theaters cannot—Importance of exposing youth to theater—Impact that school trips to the theater made on Aviles-Rodriguez—The energizing experience of working with a multicultural cast—Mentoring support from Cornerstone—Works hard at college at both academics and part-time jobs—Sense that he must over-achieve—Unfamiliarity with food stamps among students at the University of Utah—Sense of being an outsider in Utah as a minority student—Produces a performance piece centered around the Confederate flag controversy of 2000—A performance piece in memory of Ring Lardner, Jr. —A Shepard Fairey sticker campaign at University of California, San Diego (UCSD)—Begins a streaking tradition—Famous alumni of UCSD's theater program—Credits education at UCSD with inspiring him and others to break new ground—The work being done at the University of Utah—Faculty at the University of Utah—Appears in Measure for Measure at Utah—Learns a new way of speaking—Work with paroled and institutionalized youth—Philosophy on notion of self-esteem in the context of teaching—Parent participation at public schools—More on teaching philosophy—More on work with paroled and institutionalized youth—More on teaching philosophy—The lessons learned from working with Cornerstone—The trial by fire staging theater in Watts as excellent preparation—The challenges of working with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to launch Meet Me At Metro—Applies to several prestigious master's programs in theater—Demographic selection in the theater program acceptance process—Begins graduate work at UCSD in theater—Does a small amount of political theater while at UCSD—A challenging production on the topic of immigration—A willingness to take on issues that challenge audiences—Political orientation of students in theater department at UCSD—Responses to 9/11 attacks at UCSD and in Watts—The development of Aviles-Rodriguez's political views—Acceptance of Aviles-Rodriguez's guerilla theater by theater department —Involvement in a play called The Global Economy—Aviles-Rodriguez's appreciation for the complexity of historical narratives and the utilization of that in his work.
Early involvement in Watts Village Theater Company (WVTC)— Productions with high school students for WVTC—Focuses on a career as an educator—Produces Simply Maria at Jordan High School—The eye-opening experience the production provided to students—The difference in opportunity to excel as a teacher at Eagle Rock High School versus Jordan High School—The WVTC philosophy of "inreach" to Watts rather than "outreach"—Audiences for WVTC shows—Unique qualities of the Watts community provides particular challenges to arts organizations—Efforts on behalf of WVTC to address Black-Latino tension in Watts, particularly Jordan High School—Aviles-Rodriguez's work to counter low expectations for students—Quentin Drew's success at bringing powerful people in to see what was going on in Watts—The formidable obstacles of mounting a show at Jordan—Changing demographics of Watts—More on Black-Latino tensions at Jordan High School—The particular contributions of Quentin Drew as a community leader and organizer—Aviles-Rodriguez's work as artistic director of WVTC—The dissolution of the ethnic "labs" at Center Theatre Group—WVTC develops Black Words on White Pages—The success of Black Words on White Pages in getting productions to main stage—The rootedness of WVTC in the Watts community—WVTC utilizes the Joint Stock Theatre Company model in its examination of Black-Latino tensions in Watts—The Riot-Rebellion Project—The power of the Joint Stock model—Community issues brought out in the productions—Community strife that is brought into productions as material—Tendency of media to simplify and sensationalize race-related crimes—Efforts by WVTC to bring nuance to community violence that media sensationalizes in a monolithic way—Aviles-Rodriguez's curiosity as a child about the homes of African-Americans—Anger within Black community around casting immigrant rights struggles as a civil rights issue—WVTC's uses of agit-prop and comedy—Themes addressed by WVTC productions—The upcoming Riot-Rebellion Project—Upcoming 2nd Annual Meet Me @ Metro event—Themes of the show include the displacement of the Asian community by the construction of Union Station and the texting by train drivers while on duty—Efforts to do site-specific work for each stop on the Meet Me @ Metro route.