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Street Theater: 'We needed a channel . . . to analyze society's rights and wrongs'

October 01, 1987|HILLIARD HARPER

TIJUANA — They are called Los Desarraigados (The Rootless Ones). Named after the hundreds of thousands of Tijuanans who were born elsewhere, they perform in theaters, on makeshift stages outdoors, in factories and even in mines in the state of Sonora, wherever crowds gather.

Although the group's leader does not like to be "boxed in" by the term "street theater," Los Desarraigados Grupo Teatral clearly is this city's premier agitprop troupe, performing constantly in the ancient tradition of street theater.

The troupe has a strong social conscience. The members have collectively written plays oriented toward the concerns in Tijuana. "La Linea Pues'n!" ("The Border, Right On!") came out of a desire to advise migrants from the interior on what would happen if they came to Tijuana seeking to cross the border.

"We knew we couldn't stop them from coming," said Los Desarraigados director Saul M. Garcia. "We saw that the problem was the people who abused them."

Garcia and the other actors wrote a play about the problems migrants face: bandits and others who prey on them, and U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service agents. The troupe has performed the play throughout the interior of Mexico. "At least we can warn them what to avoid when they come here," Garcia said.

Actor-director Garcia, who founded Los Desarraigados 15 years ago, has taken the theater into most of Tijuana's neighborhoods and schools as well as into other cities in Baja California and other states across Mexico.

"In the city we had 15 years ago, we had to work a lot to preserve our traditions and our values in the Mexican frontier so close to the United States," Garcia said in a recent interview. "We also needed a channel of communication to analyze society's rights and wrongs." Garcia liked theater as a communication medium, especially its "rich combination of the arts," including music and scenic design.

This month Los Desarraigados began its ninth annual theater festival, a month of free performances, a new one each day by a number of visiting theater companies, including works by poets and a guest dance troupe.

Garcia prides himself on the fact that the company has been able to attract, board and feed the visiting performers without government subsidy. The troupes from Ensenada and Mexicali and other cities pay their way to and from Tijuana. Los Desarraigados arranges through restaurants and friends of the theater to provide food and lodging.

Members of the company also help raise money for the annual festival by working at the border crossing on the six weekends before the festival, selling soft drinks to those stranded in the long lines.

Although the festival is performed each year at the Social Security Building theater, Los Desarraigados does not have a home of its own. But in 15 years, Garcia and a small core of the performers have established a team that handles production as well as front office and publicity chores for its busy schedule.

The members of Los Desarraigados have to make their livings in other businesses. Garcia, who began the company while still a teen-ager, teaches drama and acting. It seems he can't get enough theater.

"That's my job and my vocation," he said. "I believe I found myself too early. But when my time comes, I'll be happy with what I've done."

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