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Metropolis / So SoCal

A Hotbed of Creativity in Boyle Heights

June 16, 2002|MICHAEL T. JARVIS

Screenwriter and playwright Josefina Lopez-Deleage is bringing new life to her old Boyle Heights neighborhood with the CASA 0101 Theater Art Space on 1st Street. "I wanted to bring theater to the barrio," says Lopez-Deleage, a native of Mexico who grew up in Boyle Heights. "People want to see things happen in their neighborhood. We're so hungry for it here."

She is feeding that need with CASA 0101, which translates roughly into "House of Technology" or, as Lopez-Deleage says with a smile, "a house of brilliant ideas." With no budget and no staff, she has used the former bridal shop since January for workshops, poetry, photo exhibits and plays. Her enthusiasm for theater in Boyle Heights harks back to the day when local artists would stage their own homemade extravaganzas. "I'd love to have theater here every quarter," Lopez-Deleage says. Earlier this year, she was amazed by the turnout for the opening of "Caja Negra [Black Box]," an exhibit by a collective of 17 Latino photographers. "We had over 500 people show up," she says.

She is also developing a "Latina Digital Boot Camp" to teach storytelling and filmmaking to local teenagers in the hope of generating more Latino film projects in Hollywood. "There are plenty of Latino actors and actresses but we need storytellers. If we don't have writers, we can't make true progress."

Lopez-Deleage knows about youthful aspirations. Fourteen years ago, at the age of 19, she wrote the play "Real Women Have Curves." The comedy tells the story of five full-figured Latinas working in a tiny Boyle Heights sewing factory while dodging the Immigration and Naturalization Service. A film version of the play took two awards at the Sundance Film Festival. HBO will premiere the film in October.

All the recognition has been a little overwhelming for Lopez-Deleage. "I'm trying to get my excitement under control," she says. She attributes her success to hard work and the encouragement of others. "When you [want to] give up, there's too many people who believe in you and they won't let you give up." Lopez-Deleage has a master's in fine arts in screenwriting from UCLA and also wrote the play "Simply Maria or The American Dream," which was produced for television.

CASA 0101 lets Lopez-Deleage give back to her old neighborhood. She defends Boyle Heights and regrets that it's only recognized when crimes occur or used as the backdrop for films. "Most of the movies filmed here are about gangs. They don't know the area. As a writer, I took so many stories from this place, and I want to give them back."--

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Casa 0101, 2009 E. 1st St., Los Angeles; (323) 263-7684.

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