The Christmas pageants put on by ETC are the kick off for our Christmas season. La Virgen is the story of the four appearances of the Virgin Mary to the Aztec messenger, Juan Diego, in the year 1531. She is most widely known as the Virgin of Guadalupe.
These performances are stirring, they move you with the color, the music, and the dance. It is really hard to stay seated when your feet just want to join in with the brightly costumed cast who are twirling and stomping in feathered headdresses, shelled breastplates and anklets. Their ages range from very young children to men and women old enough to have been retired for a time.
The performance is mesmerizing from the first sounding of the conch shell blown to call the four winds to the unfurling of the image of the Virgin by Juan Diego. Although the dialogue is entirely in Spanish the actors and the action keep non-Spanish speakers on line with what is happening throughout the play. There are no actual sets only props and costumes with the backgdrop of the 215 year old church. That is enough. v and I leave each performance choked with tears brought on by such beauty and passion.
El Teatro Campesino has been putting on the Christmas plays of La Virgen del Tepayac and La Pastorela in San Juan Bautista since 1971, mainly under the direction of Luis Valdez (of Zoot Suit fame). For the past few years he has stepped aside and his son Kinan Valdez has been directing. Every season brings a slightly tweaked version of the story which keeps the plays alive for those of us who come back year after year.
We came late to the discovery of ETC and their Christmas shows. Five years ago v was teaching at a high school down the Salinas Valley. There was no drama department, or class, at this school so v pulled together a small group of students for an after school drama program. He chose for their first production a play written by Luis Valdez, Los Vendidos. It was when he was tracking down permission to perform the play that he discovered ETC and was able to speak with Luis Valdez who in turn invited the kids, and the two teachers, v and a colleague, to come see that year's production of La Virgen. We haven't missed a season since. And in praise of v: although he no longer teaches at that school drama is now an established part of the curriculum.
Christmas, most welcome, has come upon us.
In bocca al lupo. m & v