Tag Archives: Center Theatre Group

The coolest thing happening in East LA

by Madhuri Shekar

I had plans for another blog post this week, but I stumbled into something a lot of fun this weekend, and now I’m going to write about that instead. Because I want all my theatre friends in LA to know about this awesome community project going on in Boyle Heights.

Paper mache puppets of the Corn People from the legend of Popol Voh
Paper mache puppets of the Corn People from the legend of Popol Voh

I’ve lived in Boyle Heights for 5 years, and I absolutely love it. It’s a warm, friendly, welcoming neighborhood full of family-run businesses and amazing street art. For at least a year now, I’ve been aware of ‘The Shop’, a new community engagement program that the Center Theatre Group has been running in Boyle Heights, where through workshops, classes and events every weekend, local residents are invited to participate in art and theatre making. My friend Jesus Reyes, Creative Artistic Director of East LA Rep and CTG Program Manager, facilitates and leads the team managing this wonderful initiative. I’ve seen his pictures and updates on Facebook for months now, but due to travels and a crazy schedule, I never actually was able to go. Until now!

Workshop participants
Workshop participants
The space at Self Help Graphics

Yesterday morning, I was taking a walk and happened to see that CTG had set up their ‘Shop’ at Self-Help Graphics on 1st street. Excited, I stopped in to say hi to Jesus, and found out that they were going to be making masks and puppets – MASKS AND PUPPETS – all day! The stars aligned. My afternoon was free. I stopped by with my roommate for the afternoon session and got to dive right in.

The initial character concepts as drawings
The initial character concepts as drawings
A clay mould ready for paper mache!
A clay mould ready for paper mache
Examples of the final product!
Examples of the final product!

So the program that’s happening right now is the ‘Community as Creators’ project. Over the course of several weekends this summer and fall, Boyle Heights residents gather to collectively create and shape a show that will be a retelling of the Mayan legend of Popul Vuh. The show will go up in October at Hollenbeck Park in Boyle Heights, and Grand Park in Downtown LA. These community workshop participants help create the characters, props, music, and may also eventually act in the show, depending on where their interests lie. When I stepped in this weekend, the process was already several weeks underway. So what I got to do was help paper-mache the giant masks that will be used on stage!

Jesus Reyes surveys the cardboard models of the characters
Jesus with an eagle and a toucan
Jesus with an eagle and a toucan

I can’t tell you how much fun it was to lose myself completely in this crafts project after weeks and weeks of sitting at my desk writing. I got to know my neighbors in the best, most organic way, as I shared tables with people from all over East LA (I even got to know my roommate better!). The energy was fantastic, and lots of families showed up to spend the whole day in this fun artistic activity. I did the afternoon session of Saturday, and the morning session of Sunday, and managed to get all the way through paper-mache-ing a giant human mask!

At the end of Day 1 with our paper mache man!
Me, at the end of Day 1 with our paper mache man!

Major props to Teatro Campesino who are producing this project, and Beth Peterson, the puppet artist who guided all the workshop participants through the process of creating these beautiful, vivid masks.

The workspace

LAFPI readers – I highly recommend checking this out next weekend in Boyle Heights. The paper mache process will still be underway (it will actually be the final weekend of the mask workshop). It’s a rewarding, relaxing, even therapeutic way to spend a day, collectively creating something that will be part of a beautiful theatrical presentation, truly representing the heart and spirit of Los Angeles.

Here’s the blurb with more info! Or tweet me at @madplays with any questions on the experience.

Center Theatre Group
Free Puppet and Mask Making Workshops!
Discover the artista in you! Come and help us create puppets and masks for the upcoming El Teatro Campesino production of the Popol Vuh: Heart of Heaven based on the Mayan creation myth. Master Puppet Maker la Beth Peterson brings her special talent to Boyle Heights and needs gente to help her build giant puppets, wood people and animal masks that will be part of the show. Come on, show off your talent, join us!

All workshops are free and will be held at Self-Help Graphics and Arts on Saturdays and Sundays. There are two opportunities each day to jump in:

10am–1pm: Mask work
2pm–5pm: Puppet work

Dates: 7/11, 7/12, 7/18, 7/19, 7/25, 7/26, 8/1, 8/2

Self-Help Graphics and Arts 1300 E. First St., LA 90033

• Bilingual in Spanish/English • Open to all levels of experience • Open to all ages • All materials will be provided • Snacks & beverages provided.

To reserve a spot or for more information please contact: Jesús Reyes, Community Partnerships Manager 213.972.8028 or [email protected]




I recently saw Samuel Beckett’s great short play Krapp’s Last Tape with John Hurt at the Kirk Douglas Theatre. It was a production from the Gate Theatre in Dublin. Hurt was so precise that his performance could balance on the tip of a pin. He respected the silence and made the audience respect it too. This production didn’t reach out to the audience. It brought the audience into it. It was my kind of theatre.

But enough about the production. I want to talk about the Talkback. Beckett might not reach out to his audience, but the Center Theatre Group certainly does.

As soon as my ticket was scanned, I realized I had entered a way too happy carnival. In the lobby, you could record and listen to your own audio recordings. There were tables and chairs and a wall of Irish writers in an area called Sam’s Pub. It was ghastly.

Still, I felt celebratory about seeing a Beckett play. I settled into the lobby with a plastic cup of champagne and noticed a flat screen with a twitter feed on it. I fought the urge to not to read the changing screen containing absolutely nothing.

Suddenly, I heard a theatre guy all in black announcing to some older patrons that there will be a Talkback in the lobby after the performance.

It’s only fifty-five minutes, and it’s so absurd, so you can talk about it in the lobby after the show. The bar will be open.

I listened as he said it again and again as he went from group to group. The part about the bar being opened intrigued me.

So the play happened. I won’t go into the superlatives. After a quick trip to the ladies room (champagne, glorious champagne) and a hand wash in the Ladies trough (if you’ve been to the Ladies Room of the Kirk Douglas, you know what I mean), I was back in the lobby just in time for the beginning of the Talkback.

It was moderated by a twenty-something theatre girl all in black who obviously had been given a list of talking points. Whenever there was a silence she added a new point. My favorite was when she pointed out that John Hurt looked like an older Beckett. Uh-huh.

I left. I had to go. As I walked away, I went to my negative place. Oh God, what horror, what awful terrible horror. The Talkback.

When did theatre become a democracy? When did it become okay for the audience to discuss their feelings? This is Beckett, not therapy. Just because you have an opinion, madam, doesn’t mean you have express it. Is there any place these days without a comment field?

I don’t care how my plays make you feel. Okay, I do a little. I like it when folks laugh and clap and give me money. I don’t want to hear how my play relates to your life. That’s between you and the play. When the play’s over, clap and leave. Thank you, good night.