Oral Histories

Interview of Jesus Reyes

Manager of Center Theatre Group's community programs. Founder and creative artistic director of the creative center East LA Rep. Los Angeles County arts commissioner representing the first district.
Community-Engaged Theater in Los Angeles
COVID-19 Pandemic
Biographical Note:
Manager of Center Theatre Group's community programs. Founder and creative artistic director of the creative center East LA Rep. Los Angeles County arts commissioner representing the first district.
Collings, Jane
Reyes, Jesus
Persons Present:
Reyes and Collings.
Place Conducted:
Sessions one and two: Burbank, California; Session three: East LA Rep in Los Angeles, California. Because of the necessity of restricting personal contact during the COVID-19 pandemic, the fourth session was conducted by 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 the East LA Rep company.
Processing of Interview:
For sessions one through three, the interviewer prepared a timed log of the audio recording of the interview. Several years later session four was conducted and transcribed by a machine transcribing software and audit edited by student staff. Reyes was given the opportunity to review both the log and the transcript in order to supply missing or misspelled names and to verify the accuracy of the content but made no changes.
6 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.
Early life in Boyle Heights—Family background—A sense of place in Boyle Heights—Learns English watch TV—Grows up with mother and aunt—Reyes's grandmother—Family trips around Los Angeles—Reyes's close relationship with his own mother—Reyes's sense of family—Boyle Heights neighborhood—More on watching TV as a child—Mother's parenting style—Education in Catholic schools—Religious education—More on education—An insular family upbringing—Sense that the neighborhood was dangerous at night—Memories of play indoors and within the building complex as a child—Kids in the neighborhood—Trips to visit cousins in Maywood—Mother's hometown in Sinaloa—Reyes's summers in Mexico—Some contact in LA with the small group of émigrés from mother's home town—Mother's determination to come to Los Angeles—Grows up entirely bilingual.
Interest in arts and music while at high school—The dance party scene—Beginnings of an interest in theater at East LA College (ELACC)—Catches the "acting bug" during a performance of Brighton Beach Memoirs—An enriching learning experience in theater at ELACC—A curriculum that leans toward teaching white playwrights—The impact of Simply Maria by Josefina Lopez and Angels in America by Tony Kushner—Love of forties-era musical comedies—Appreciation for vaudeville-style theater—The humor of Cantinflas—An appreciation for a political style of dark comedy—A TV show, El Travel del Ocho—A dearth of exposure to politics during upbringing—The pedagogical influence of Jesuit priest Brother Jaime—Responsibilities toward family—The magnetic force of the neighborhoods of East LA and Boyle Heights—Attends San Jose State University (SJSU)to study theater—Begins to consider a directing career in theater—Begins to go by "Jesus" as opposed to "Alfred," as had done in the past—Roommates at college—Sense of dislocation in San Jose—Predominantly white student body in SJSU theater program—Meets a first mentor in Amy Glazer—Appears in Standup Tragedy directed by Amy Glazer—Stagefright—The relationship with Amy Glazer—Limitations at SJSU—Meets Dr. Ethel P. Walker and Pamela Salazar, both influential figures for Reyes—Encouraged to discover Latino-specific themes and topics in theater —Begins work with Teatro Vision in San Jose—Directs Simply Maria—Dearth of Latino-themed material and of Latinos interested in acting at SJSU—Introduced to the notion of "representing" Latino culture—Learns about German Expressionism from Dr. Karl Toepfer—An eye-opening play, The Conduct of Life, by Maria Irene Fornes—Drive to learn the work of Latino playwrights.
The membership of the newly formed East LA Rep—Fanny Garcia, Karina Gonzales, Juan Enrique Carrillo—More on the formation of East LA Rep, reading plays by Latino laywrights—Begins promoting the idea of the theater group in LA—The East LA Rep mission statement includes promoting Latino heritage and doing free Shakespeare in the park—The rofessionalism of the company—Early East LA Rep productions—Casa Zero Uno Zero Uno— Josefina Lopez—Difficulties finding a performance space in East LA—East LA Rep productions of Macbeth for the park—Question for East LA Rep about why they are doing Shakespeare—The reception of the plays in the park—The themes of the adaptations of the Shakespeare plays—Finds a performance space in La Casa del Mexicano at the edge of Boyle Heights—Fanny Garcia's play on HIV/AIDS—The history of La Casa del Mexicano—Work produced at La Casa del Mexicano—Reviews for East LA Rep—Coverage of East LA Rep in local penny saver paper, Clasificados—A few mentions in La Opinion's entertainment insert—Other coverage—Moves into a space called El Gallo—Ticket prices—Challenges audiences—Audience composition—East LA Rep as an itinerant company—Flexibility in programming and pricing—Changes among staff and staff roles at East LA Rep—A consideration of whether or how to go forward—Reyes's involvement with the Theater Communications Group promotes East LA Rep—Reyes's sense for a time that East LA Rep should disband—Travels to Spain and Britain on an arts fellowship—East LA Rep moves into the Hazard Park Armory—Works on production of From Prada to Nada—Becomes an arts commissioner with Gloria Molina's 1st District council office—East LA Rep finds a space in the Legacy LA space—East LA Rep shifts from mounting performances to supporting arts and theater culture in East LA—The central importance of a permanent space for the East LA Rep arts organization.