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Guide to the El Teatro Campesino Archives CEMA 5
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  • Biographical/Historical note
  • Scope Note
  • Series Description
  • Access Restrictions
  • Publication Rights
  • Preferred Citation note
  • Processing Information note

  • Title: El Teatro Campesino Archives
    Identifier/Call Number: CEMA 5
    Contributing Institution: UC Santa Barbara Library, Department of Special Collections
    Language of Material: English
    Physical Description: 284.5 linear feet (142 boxes, 124 videos, 46 slide albums, and 192 posters)
    Date (bulk): Bulk, 1964-1988
    Date (inclusive): Bulk, 1964-1988 1964-2010
    General Physical Description note: 142 boxes, 124 videos, 46 slide albums, and 192 posters

    Biographical/Historical note

    The Teatro Campesino Archives represents over twenty years of this theater company's activities through 1988. The organization continues to the present. It is the country’s most influential Latino theater group and one which has made major contributions to Chicano culture in the United States and to the development and expansion of the boundaries of theater everywhere.
    El Teatro Campesino began with short performances in the fields of California's central valley for audiences of farm workers in 1965. By 1970 the Teatro had gained an international reputation and had inspired the formation of many other Chicano theater companies. The transformation started in a context of a new awareness of cultural identities in the 1960s which brought a new consciousness of their social, political, and economic positions to minorities. This context provided one of the resources which contributed to El Teatro's growth: audiences who were ready for the clarity which its dramatic art brought to their situation. The performances drew on traditions from European drama such as commedia dell'arte, Spanish religious dramas adapted for teaching Mission Indians, a Mexican tradition of performances in California which began in the mid-nineteenth century, and Aztec and Maya sacred ritual dramas. The name given to traveling groups of Aztec actors, tlaquetzque, "those who made things stand out,"seems particularly apt for the performances of El Teatro Campesino.
    The events of the times were made to stand out beginning in 1965 by Luis Valdez, a Chicano who was one of ten children of farm workers who followed the crops for a living. Luis Valdez worked in the fields with his family from the age of six, and attended schools in the San Joaquin Valley. An early interest in drama was expressed in the puppet shows he gave for neighbors and friends. He finished high school and went to San Jose State College, where he received a B.A. in 1964 in Math and English. The drama department of San Jose State University produced his first full-length play. He worked with the San Francisco Mime Troupe for several months, and then went to his birthplace, Delano, where he joined Cesar Chavez, leader of the striking United Farmworkers of America, and formed El Teatro Campesino. Valdez's influence on the theater world includes teaching drama at Fresno State College from 1968 to 1970 and at the University of California at Berkeley and Santa Cruz from 1971 to 1974. He has continued heading workshops at the Teatro's San Juan Bautista headquarters. Valdez was appointed to advisory boards of the International Theater Institute in New York and PBS's Visions Project at KCET in Los Angeles. He has served on the theater panel for the National Endowment for the Arts and in other theater advisory capacities. Throughout its history, from the early days of performing on flatbed trucks to the fully developed professional production of "Zoot Suit" on Broadway, Valdez has been the inspiration and guide for the collective efforts of the Teatro.
    In the early years, all of the actors were farm workers. Valdez emphasized ensemble work, in which all actors contributed to the interpretation of the performance. Most troupe members took on multiple roles. One person, for example was an actor, technical director, company manager, and tour coordinator; another was an actor, business manager, administrative director, researcher, and producer. Members of the Teatro created their own material. They started with no scenery, no scripts, and no costumes. They used props and costumes casually, and hung signs around their necks to indicate characters. Working with their own material, the actors were free to express what they knew and felt. "Real theater lies in the excited laughter (or silence) of recognition in the audience, not in all the paraphernalia on the stage," said Valdez. The dramas were short, but Valdez decided to call them actos rather than skits, because skits seemed too light a word to express the work they were doing. In 1967 Valdez explained that El Teatro's purpose was to examine and redefine the heart of the Chicano people: ritual, music, beauty, and spiritual sensitivity. He sees theater as a vehicle "to affect and modify and change and give direction to society. . . You can take people's minds off their problems by entertaining them, but you can also do that by giving them a different perspective," said Valdez in a later interview. "One of my approaches to life in general [is] if you feel you're short-changed, fill the gap yourself. Why mope? Why feel angry? You've got the power to do something."
    Humor has always been an important ingredient in the Teatro's drama, inspired by Mexican folk humor which is typified by the performances of the Mexican comedian Cantinflas. Valdez explains that the troupe was not concerned with being witty, but only with the truth of the moment, and humor was found in raw truth. Social points were made not in spite of comedy, but through it, using broad farcical statements. Humor became a major asset and weapon, adding understanding and appeal to the messages of the actos.
    Chicanos who saw the popular success of El Teatro Campesino in the seventies felt that it had brought Chicano philosophy not only to new audiences, but to the artistic heart of the system. "I want audiences to get up off their seats and go out of the theater feeling somewhat better about life. . . I want them to sense human unity rather than divisiveness," said Valdez after "Zoot Suit" opened on Broadway.
    Awards honoring El Teatro Campesino and/or the work of Luis Valdez include: the Obie Award in 1968, the Los Angeles Drama Critics Award in 1969 and 1972, 11 Bay Area critics awards for "Corridos" in 1983, Peabody Award for "Corridos" in 1987, an Emmy for "Los Vendidos" in 1972, and the Los Angeles Critics Circle Award and eight Drama-Logue Awards for "Zoot Suit" in 1978.
    The following timeline presents some of the highlights of El Teatro Campesino reflecting the history of the organization up to the date that the archives were established.
    1965- Valdez founded El Teatro Campesino, which was the cultural and propagandistic arm of the United Farm Workers of America for two years. El Teatro went on its first national tour to raise funds for the striking farm workers.
    1967- El Centro Campesino Cultural was established and the dramas addressed broader themes related to Chicano culture, including: education, Vietnam, indigenous roots, and racism.
    1969- The Teatro participated in a world theater festival in France, moved its headquarters to Fresno, produced the film "I am Joaquin," which won several awards, and created El Teatro Nacional de Aztlan (TENAZ), a national network of Chicano theater groups:
    1969 to '80- The Teatro toured across the United States and Mexico and made six tours to Europe.
    1971- El Teatro Campesino moved its headquarters to San Juan Bautista. Traditional religious plays, "La Virgen del Tepeyac" and "La Pastorela" were adapted for Christmas celebrations at the center. Valdez was appointed to the advisory boards of the International Theater Institute in New York and to PBS Visions project in Los Angeles. Valdez taught drama at the University of California in Berkeley and Santa Cruz from 1971 to1974.
    1973-British theater director Peter Brook and his Paris-based company participated in an experimental workshop with El Teatro Campesino in San Juan Bautista. "La Carpa de los Rasquachis" played at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
    1975- "El Fin del Mundo" and the puppet play "La Pastorela" were produced at San Juan Bautista.
    1976- The U.S. State Department, as part of its Bicentennial programming, designated the European tour of "La Carpa" as an official event. "La Carpa" was also filmed for PBS under the title "El Corrido."
    1977- The Teatro company appeared in the film "Which Way Is Up?" and Valdez collaborated on the screenplay. "La Pastorela" became a play for actors.
    1978- "Zoot Suit," written and directed by Valdez, was presented at the Aquarius Theater, Los Angeles, and went to Broadway for four weeks in 1979.
    1981- The Teatro opened its playhouse, converted from a fruit-packing shed in San Juan Bautista, and presented Valdez's adaptation of David Belasco's "The Rose of the Rancho," and Valdez's play, "Bandido," based on a figure in California history.
    1982- "Corridos," a new form using mime, music, and theater to explore the lives of the campesino, was produced at the playhouse.
    1983- "Corridos" played at Marines Memorial Theater in San Francisco, Old Globe Theater in San Diego, and the Variety Arts Theater in Los Angeles. The film version of "Zoot Suit," directed by Valdez, opened the London Film Festival.
    1984- "Corridos" was presented on PBS station KQED, San Francisco.
    1985- Two El Teatro Campesino plays were a part of the Public Theater's Festival Latino in New York.
    1986- "I Don't Have to Show You No Stinking Badges," a play by Valdez, premiered at the Los Angeles Theater Center and played for four months.
    1987- Valdez directed the film "La Bamba." In San Juan Bautista the members continued the work of the Teatro as a professional company and a cultural institution. It reached out to new American audiences while preserving an ancient tradition of popular classics and introducing new original work by Latinos and Latinas.

    Scope Note

    The archives of El Teatro Campesino are the largest archival collection on Chicano theater, consisting of approximately 157 linear feet of archives and manuscripts. They include a variety of formats, dating from the Teatro's founding in 1965. They include primary materials for researchers with an interest in theater arts, cultural arts, history, political science, labor relations, ethnic studies, sociology, antropology, and women's studies. Most materials are in English; some are in Spanish or a combination of the two languages. At least eight other languages are represented, an indication of the international interest in the Teatro.
    The archives document important biographical facts and evolutionary processes which involved the playwright and director Luis Valdez, the many players in the theater company, and unique information concerning many important cultural, political, literary, and artistic individuals with whom El Teatro Campesino has interacted over the years since its founding in 1965. All the phases of the Teatro's development are represented from the farm workers' strike years in 1965 through 1967; establishment of the San Juan Bautista center as the base for growth and development of new themes and the point od departure for tours from 1971 to the present; commercial theater and film productions from 1977 to 1988. The videos in series five correspond with a tape number such as 1141. They are are on DVD-video disks (V1141/UM), and in mpg-2 (cusb-v1141a.mpg) and Quick Time (cusb-v1141b) format.
    Since El Teatro Campesino is a vital and active organization, it will continuously generate new records that will eventually be transferred to the archives at UCSB. The Teatro archives are divided into the seventeen series decscribed below.

    Series Description

    Series I: Scripts, ca. 1967-1986.
    Series I consists of 152 manuscripts of plays and is housed in thirty-nine archival boxes. This is the research core of the collection, containing final and working copies, published and unpublished scripts of plays. Some include accompanying notes and/or songsheets. Scripts from the early period include the actos given by farmworkers on flatbed trucks. Later productions include plays given at the playhouse in San Juan Bautista, and scripts for both the play and screenplay of Zoot Suit. All versions of the same play are grouped together, so it is possible to see the evolution of one play over time. Following are a few examples of outstanding productions that have scripts in Series I:
    "La Gran Carpa de los Rasquachis" ("The Great Tent of the Underdogs") was the first collective full-length play. The Teatro included it in a European tour in 1976 and it was designated an official event for the U.S. Bicentennial. It was also filmed for PBS under the title "El Corrido."
    The play "Zoot Suit," according to Jorge Huerta, "combined elements of the acto, corrido, carpa, and mito with Living Newspaper techniques to dramatize a Chicano family in crisis." This was the first Chicano play to enjoy a long commercial success.
    "The Shrunken Head of Pancho Villa" was the first full-length play that Luis Valdez wrote. It was produced at San Jose State University in 1964.
    "Soldado Razo" shows the acto in transition. Whereas early actos used no props, sets, or costumes, "Soldado" requires some furniture.
    Valdez said "Dark Root of a Scream" is a mito, a situation seen through the eyes of God, in contrast with the acto, which was seen through the eyes of man. First produced in the early seventies, "Dark Root" was revived in a 1985 version.
    "I Don't Got to Show You No Stinking Badges" received its title from a scene in the motion picutre "The Treasure of Sierra Madre." The play is about a materially successful Chicano family of the eighties. Themes, also used elsewhere by Valdez, are of a family in crisis and the search for identity of each of the family members. One reviewer tells us that the play deals with universal themes, and is topical, accessible and funny.
    Other major plays include “La Virgen del Tepeyac,” “La Pastorela,” “Bandido,” “Bernabe,” “Soldierboy,” and “The Fabulous Life and Death of Don Juan Terrovio.”
    Series II: Published Books, Journals and Magazines, 1967-1986.
    This series consists of two subseries of one box each housed in the Special Collections, and one box of unprocessed miscellaneous periodicals in the Library Annex.
    Subseries IIA comprises sixty-five journals and magazines dated from 1967 to 1988. These periodicals contain interviews, reviews of Teatro plays and movies and background articles , some of which comment on artistic and political aspects. Some pieces give biographical information about Valdez and other El Teatro Campesino members. There are reviews of plays and of books that include mention of the Teatro. Periodicals in this series are as diverse as California Theatre Annual, Time, and various university publications, and represent more than half a dozen countries. Note: Items are located in Special Collections and elsewhere in the University Library.
    Subseries IIB consists of sixty books dated from 1970 to 1986. The books contain chapters, essays, or sections about El Teatro Campesino or Chicano theater. Subject matter is similar to that in the journals in Subseries IIA. Examples of books included are Theater Past and Present, Chicana Voices, and Guerilla Theater. English, Spanish, and other languages are represented. Also in this subseries are one set of conference proceedings, and one essay from a book written in Polish. Note: Items are located in Special Collections and elsewhere in the University Library.
    Series III: Published Reviews, Articles, Interviews 1964-1987.
    Series III consists of 316 published pieces about the Teatro from magazines and newspapers, housed in 53 archival boxes. These articles were cut from magazines and newspapers included in the original El Teatro Campesino files. They are chronologically filed in folders. Some articles are by Luis Valdez. Others, by various authors, are about Teatro plays, performances, and the connection with farmworkers. Some articles report about Chicanos on stage and in film, the making of films with which Valdez was involved, and the archival collection of El Teatro Chicano at UCSB. There are interviews with Luis Valdez and reviews of plays and films. Many are from California publications; some are from various locations where the Teatro toured.
    Series IV: Film Edited and Unedited.
    The films were transferred to video and are described in Series V, below.
    Series V: Videos, Edited and Unedited 1974-1988.
    The video archives subseries contains 118 videos of El Teatro Campesino plays, television specials, concerts, interviews, news footage, commercials, and workshops from 1974-1988. This series includes the first known film that has a segment about the Teatro, "Huelga," narrated by Cesar Chavez. Other films range from the early actos to television specials on the movie "Zoot Suit." There are films of scenes from plays and whole plays, interviews with Valdez and others, footage of the twentieth anniversary gala of El Teatro Campesino, and a documentary on the history of the Teatro made in 1981. They originate in several locations, including Monterey, Sacramento, San Jose, and various parts of Mexico. The Necessary Theater Conference subseries is six videos from the January 2010 UCSB conference, "Necessary Theater: Luis Valdez and the Teatro Campesino."
    Series VI: Photographs, 1966-1987.
    Series VI comprises 3,417 individual photographs housed in thirty-nine boxes. The 257 listings in the guide give the years and a general description of the subjects in each file folder. They illustrate productions, cast members, local and tour locations, events, and history of El Teatro Campesino. Film strips, small candid snapshots, and 8x10 photographs, black and white and in color, are all in this collection. Many informal pictures show the Teatro members and their families at leisure. Other photos are of rehearsals, performances, and audiences. There are many publicity stills of various actors and musicians.
    Series VII: Photo Negatives.
    These are negatives of the photographs in Series VI, kept in three albums. One box of negatives is in the University Library Annex.
    Series VIII: Slides 1967-1986.
    Twenty-three albums house the slides. The guide provides 253 listings of multiple items in ten subseries. A few examples in each of the subseries are given in the following description: (1) Posters-- includes many huelga posters, most in color; (2) Productions-- European and local performances; (3) Conferences, Workshops, and Symposia; (4) Events-- Some examples are: celebrations at San Juan Bautista, the first TENAZ festival,world premier of the motion picture "Zoot Suit" (5) Art Works and Exhibitions-- Include typical Mexican costumes, George Ballis photography exhibit; (6) Research and Reference Materials-- for example: references for "I Am Joaquin," poem, play, and motion picture, San Juan Bautista Mission, slides of pre-Columbian art, (7) Masks; (8) Costumes; (9) Props; and (10) Miscellaneous--portraits, candid shots of members and families, outdoor scenery. These remain at ETC headquarters.
    Series IX: Audio Recordings 1966- 1986.
    Series IX consists of 385 items in nine subseries, housed in twenty-three albums in the Special Collections. One carton of unprocessed audio cassette albums is in the Library Annex. (1) Luis Valdez (Interviews, Speeches, Lectures, Seminars, etc.) This subseries includes interviews with Cuban workers and a Fidel Castro rally; (2) Teatro Members (Interviews, etc.); (3) Conferences, Workshops, Discussions--includes first meeting of TENAZ.; (4) Misc. Music and Sound Effects--used in performances; (5) Corridos--Traditional Mexican ballads and also specific music, audition tapes, and advertising for the production of Corridos; (6) Zoot Suit (Resource Music, Sound Effects, Research, and Notes--for both play and motion picture; (7) Performances (Performance Music and Sound Effects)--for many other productions; (8) Miscellaneous--includes demonstration tapes, correspondence, readings about Chicanos, and a birthday party for Valdez. (9) Huelga (Interviews, Speeches, Meetings, Music)--includes church services, rallies, and weekend camps. These remain at ETC headquarters.
    Series X: Historical Masks, Costumes, Props.
    These remain at ETC headquarters.
    Series XI: Lighting Plots, Costume Renderings, Set and Prop Designs, ca. 1974-1985.
    These remain at ETC headquarters.
    Series XII: Press Files, Releases, PSA's Original Art/Graphic Work, Layouts, Advertising Photo Transferes, Pertinent Correspondence.
    These remain at ETC headquarters.
    Series XIII: Poster Collection, ca. 1967-1988.
    This series consists of 121 posters in 4 portfolio cartons, three telescope containers of oversize posters from the European tour, and two duplicate slide sets. These are housed in Del Norte. El Teatro Campesino's history can be traced through the poster collection, beginning with posters for the first performances and continuing through plays and performances in national and European locations. These posters are duplicated in the slides in Series VIII.
    Subseries Supplemental Posters contains 71 posters in two portfolio boxes. Some of the larger posters share one oversize portfolio box.
    Series XIV: Supplemental Printed Matter: Programs, Flyers, Brochures, Playbills, etc., 1965-1989.
    Nineteen boxes house the 549 items which are chronologically arranged. Mailers, buttons, and advertisements are also found in this series. The original flyer which established El Teatro Campesino is here, with other early flyers announcing actos. Other flyers announce performances throughout the Teatro's history during the twenty-five years included.
    Series XV: Organizational Papers: administrative correspondence, flyers, and miscellaneous notes regarding events or activities done in colaboration with external organizations and individual people.
    Documents about operations, product sales, and other administrative files totaling eight and one-half linear feet are in 33 boxes in Del Norte.
    Series XVI: Awards and Honors (Teatro and Valdez Collections).
    These 105 items arranged chronologically will remain at El Teatro Campesino headquarters.
    Series XVII: Unpublished Scholarly Works (including dissertations and theses), 1967-1987.
    The seven boxes of this series contain twenty items. These include works authored by Jorge Huerta, Betty Diamond, Luis Valdez, and others. They originated at several universities and include transcripts of lectures given by Valdez at the University of California at Irvine in 1984.

    Access Restrictions


    Publication Rights

    Copyright has not been assigned to the Department of Special Collections, UCSB. All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the Head of Special Collections. Permission for publication is given on behalf of the Department of Special Collections as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which also must be obtained.

    Preferred Citation note

    El Teatro Campesino Archives, CEMA 5, Department of Special Collections, University Library, University of California, Santa Barbara

    Processing Information note

    Project Archivist: Salvador Güereña; Principal Processors: Rosemarie Leon, Andres Gutierrez; Processors: Enedina Galarza, Romelia Salinas, Joseph Velasco; Guide Prepared by: Meg Morris; Date: processing completed May 15, 1988; Updated: 2011 by Callie Bowdish and Douglas Ramos

    Subjects and Indexing Terms

    Teatro Campesino (Organization).
    Agricultural laborers
    American literature -- Mexican American authors
    Mexican American agricultural laborers -- California
    Mexican American theater -- California
    The Shrunken Head of Pancho Villa [play]
    Theater -- Political Aspects
    United Farm Workers of America
    Workers' theater -- California -- History
    Zoot Suit [film]
    Zoot Suit [play]