First AB5 and now COVID-19. An interview with Latino Theatre Company´s Artistic Director, José Luis Valenzuela

The show must go on... How this Los Angeles based theater company is moving forward despite these weird times
By Alejandra Enciso-Dardashti
An interview with LATC´s Artistic Director José Luis Valenzuela. Photo: 
Before these apocalyptic times, I reached out to the Latino Theatre Company to request an interview and talk about their upcoming season. We had scheduled the interview in advance so, when it was time to do the call, we were living in a totally different time than just two weeks before... here is my chat with Artistic Director, José Luis Valenzuela:
F.A.0: Let us start with the bad stuff... What is the approach that you all are taking with the current situation and how is the pulse? How is everybody feeling over at your organization?

J.L.V:You know, it is complicated with an organization as small as we are. If you are not producing, and if you are not performing... We had to postpone the season... For us, unfortunately a lot of it means money. We decided that we will still pay the workers because of their livelihood. 

Right now, everybody is staying home, we are trying to have a person at the office answering the phones because people are calling about their tickets and what is happening. We are going to hold on as much as we can but, financially it is a big deal for us.

F.A.0: First it was AB5 and now this...

J.L.V: Exactly! first AB5 and now this! That is correct. It makes it very difficult for companies that do not have lots of resources.

F.A.0: Are you getting a lot of requests for refunds?
Photo Courtesy of
J.L.V: We have not yet. We are asking people if we could just extend the tickets for another date you know? Hopefully they will agree.

F.A.0: Different companies are taking different approaches. For example, even though things are changing every day, Broadway is set to re start between April 12-15. Other companies until May and so on. Do you have a tentative re-start date?

J.L.V: We are trying to figure out if we could begin -at least the rehearsal period- around April 21 or something like that if it is possible. I am not sure; we are so close to it. Maybe we would have to do it later, but the idea was to reopen the season in May. We had two companies from Europe that will not be able to come. And, it is a little nerve-racking just because we do not know if we will open the season and people will come anyway. 

The fear is so big, that they may not want to go anywhere. 

Photo Courtesy of
F.A.0: Which companies are these?

J.L.V: Marta Carrasco with the show Perra de nadie and Kulunka Theatre with Andre and Dorine. I do not think they will be able to come. Not during this time because the doors are closed to come from Europe. We are trying to do the three other shows, at least from the middle of May to the end of June. After that, it is very complicated for us to have shows because we rely a lot on the schools and young people from colleges and universities. They are closed, some all the way to the summer taking online classes now and others like UCLA and USC for the rest of the year. 

F.A.0: What are you doing to keep sane and move forward?

J.L.V: So, right now, we are trying to figure out financially what it will do for us if we close the season until the fall. We are trying to figure other ways to provide other services without going to the theatre. Online services for people who bought a ticket and provide them with a special link, so they are able to see the shows online. We do not know what the response from the union is going to be in order to film. I think they are trying to figure it out. What can we do and what can we not do?

F.A.0: Well, I think they have to be flexible...everybody is on the same boat. Are you setting up a go fund me or something of the sort for these times?

J.L.V: Yes, in order to keep the operations of the theatre, especially for that. Because that will not get lower. You still must pay for the electricity and everything else which is very expensive in a building like us.

F.A.0: Can you tell me ballpark figure, how much does it cost? is it monthly?

J.L.V: Right now, our operation costs us around 150,000 dollars a month.

F.A.0: Oh Jesus...

J.L.V: Yeah... it is a lot of money for us.

F.A.0: Yes! a lot of money in general!

J.L.V: I think these two weeks are going to be crucial for everybody, for the entire country. So, we are trying to be sensitive to the idea that people are thinking about their livelihood you know. 

José Luis Valenzuela. Photo Credit: UCLA
It is a difficult time for the world right now but, we have to keep going and figure out how to survive.

F.A.0: How many employees do you have over there?

J.L.V: We have 11 employees that are full time and we hire many hourly employees, 300 a year. We are concerned for all those workers, so we are trying to allow them to come to the building and be able to work away from each other in order to help them financially. This is work that we need to do in the theater anyway, these are light people, sound people, carpenters, etc. We are trying to be sensitive and give them hours even though we do not have the season running.

F.A.0: So, you are trying to keep things as stable and flowy as possible -in that sense- for people to still keep getting paid.

J.L.V: Yeah...

F.A.0: That is awesome.

J.L.V: It's a small organization but everybody is very committed, and they are wonderful people. We have an amazing staff. They are part of what we do and who we are. Just because they are hourly does not mean we do not have a responsibility towards them.

F.A.0: Is it the same for the rest of the employees?

J.L.V: Yes. We are keeping everybody on salary and letting them work from home. A lot of the work can be done from home. That is why it makes it really complicated because we do not know how long this can last without bringing the company under. And I am sure this is happening everywhere.

For the actors that were supposed to be in contract right now, they can't because we are not rehearsing. That is terrifying. They were supposed to get a job and they didn't. It is going to be difficult for a lot of people, especially the artists because they are seasonal too. It is not a full-time job. I was talking to one of my playwrights and he was mentioning that all his shows were cancelled and that he will not receive any royalties. "I have no idea how I am going to survive".

F.A.0: The thing about this, is that you do not know. We do not know if it will be four weeks, four months or however long. How can we know what to do? The other thing is that, when things go back to normal, how are all those dates of audiences and missed shows moving forward?

J.L.V: When we come back, instead of doing 22-23 performances for each show, we will do maybe 35. More dates for people to be able to come. It is great and hopefully people will come. 

F.A.0: What is the capacity of each of your theatres?

J.L.V:  I have a 500, a 350, a 300 and a 99 seat. So, we have capacity for 1,200 people a night, total.

F.A.0: Do you have times where all your theaters are running at the same time?

J.L.V: Yes. Sometimes, and when it does, it is very exciting. 
Los Angeles Theatre Center Campus. Photo LATC-Facebook

José Luis Valenzuela and The Latino Theatre Company are the Padrinos of the new phase of this blog and its persona in English. We are very grateful that they took the call and confirmed the interview BEFORE these apocalyptic times and granted us to speak with the Artistic Director of the place no less!

Please check back their website as they prepare to launch their funding campaign and ways to help the artistic community. Or simply click on their Donate button. No donation is too small.

No comments:

Post a Comment