Photo by Mike Palma.

A Good Day for East West Players
by Carolina San Juan, PhD (Arts Education, East West Players)

I chose to leave college teaching to administer a non-profit theater’s arts education program because I had grown tired of “talking” about arts in the community and needed to return to my roots in community arts organizing. My doctoral research focused on the role of the Philippine Vaudeville ensemble, Tropang Bodabil, to educate and organize disenfranchise working-class Filipinos to participate in the 1986 People Power Revolution that ousted former Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos, subsequently ending 14 years of Martial Law. Needless to say, I think theater is a big deal—especially for the marginalized and oppressed citizens of our world.

I had just started at East West Players (EWP) in September 2016, when Ashlee Frandell and Pilar Alvarez of Young Storytellers approached me to participate in their creative arts program. Young Storytellers is a 20-year program committed to engaging students in creative storytelling. They provide elementary school students the mentorship, collaboration, performance space, and actors to inspire a love of storytelling. More importantly, they provide children the opportunity to be heard. Pilar and Ashlee were producing their Big Show with Dolores Mission School in Boyle Heights just one mile from our theater in Little Tokyo. They hoped that as neighbors, EWP could ask our actors and mentors to volunteer.

By October, my anxiety about the election was taking a toll. I felt compelled to act: to do something—anything—to alleviate my growing fear and despair about the growing alt-right presence in our lives. As a Filipino American, I was appalled with the extrajudicial killings in the Philippines under the Duterte administration. Brexit was a shock that foreshadowed a larger movement against immigrants. During these uncertain times, I’m committed more than ever to creating “good days”.  I needed a project to focus my intention and role in arts education and EWP, so I emailed Young Storytellers and offered our theater for their show.

With approval from Andy Lowe, our production manager, I began planning in earnest. We hit a major setback when the school explained that while the kids from older grades could walk to Little Tokyo, the younger children would be left behind. Knowing how disappointed my own third grader would feel, I called for help. After reaching the Metro Los Angeles Community Relations office, within 48 hours we found a way for the Dolores Mission School to walk to the Pico Aliso Gold Line stop and ride one stop to Little Tokyo, and then walk to our theater.

And so, a little over 30 days after the election results, 200 children filled our house—and it felt incredible. With the Young Storytellers mentors, actors, and writers; Dolores Mission teachers, administrators, and parent volunteers; and the EWP staff, we filled every seat in the house. Through some tears, I welcomed Dolores Mission School, Young Storytellers administrators, mentors, and actors to East West Players.

I told them that as they grow older and experience many changes in their families, communities, and in our country, to remember this experience. To remember the stories their classmates are sharing with them today, the mentors that have guided them, the actors that gave their ideas heart, and this space that houses all of us. I said, “If you ever feel lost, hopeless, and disconnected—remember the theater. Theater is where we examine what we believe, what motivates us, and where we feel our humanity. Welcome to East West Players. You are our neighbors. You are our future. And you are always welcome here.”

Tuesday, December 13 was, indeed, a good day for East West Players.