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A search for identity fueled American Stage’s ‘Nosotros La Gente’

Bill DeYoung

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Jerry Montoya

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941 sets in motion the story of Nosotros La Gente (We the People), the latest production in American Stage’s Digital Theatre series.

Premiering Thursday, the show will be performed live – via two cameras – five times before Dec. 20, with numerous availabilities along the way for viewing the pre-recorded version.

As with the recent “virtual” production Kate, Jerry Montoya’s Nosotros La Gente will take place on a set created by American Stage’s prodigiously talented production designer Jerid Fox.

Associate Artistic Director Kristin Clippard is the co-director, along with Montoya, a California-based playwright and theater artist who writes, directs and produces at the Sofia Tsakopoulos Center for the Arts and B Street Theatre, both in Sacramento.

Montoya and American Stage’s Producing Artistic Director Stephanie Gularte, a former resident of the Sacramento area, are longtime friends and colleagues.

It was Gularte who commissioned Nosotros La Gente for American Stage, thinking back on stories Montoya used to tell about his family.

“This is really a soldier story,” Montoya explained in a video interview with Gularte in September. “It’s a family story, and about how my family reveres service. And for what’s happening today, it’s like the world’s catching up to me wanting to tell this story now. Which is really shocking me.”

Two brothers, Salvador and Santiago, toil in the hot Coachella Valley sun, as day laborers, and they dream of something more. When Pearl Harbor happens, Santiago enlists, and Salvador finds himself trying to pick up the pieces of their shattered dream. He vows to care for the woman his brother loved.

A significant part of this story, Montoya explained, emerged during an investigation into his own heritage.

“Being a Mexican American in America, we’re erased as a people,” he said. “We don’t have a very strong pride of ‘who we were’; that’s not part of the story of America. I think most people would be hard-pressed to tell you three Mexican American people who’ve contributed to America, other than Cesar Chavez. We haven’t been taught that ourselves!

“That always was in conflict with what my family taught me.” His family, Montoya added, “felt very American.”

He began to research. “I realized I didn’t know anything about the beginnings of the Coachella Valley. And I found a book, downloaded and read it, and it was about the white settlers and the pioneers of that valley. And I was like, ‘This is amazing. There’s not a single Mexican American who contributed to the founding of one of the major agricultural centers in America.’

“So then I looked up racism in the valley, and found a book that was written in response to that book, about these people who’d contributed … I started reading it and realized I was related to them! All of a sudden they were talking about my grandfather as one of the pioneers.”

Knowing this gave Nosotros La Gente – a story he had been thinking about for years – a new “immediacy,” he said.

And performing it virtually, he believes, is a win-win for everybody. “We all have front-row seats,” Montoya said. “That intimacy, for the actor, should be utilized. So I’m trying to find that intimacy in the piece, so it feels literally like you’re in the room, watching somebody live their life.”

The actors, new to American Stage, are Daniel Llaca and Diana Garle.

All details on Nostros La Gente (We the People) are here.

 

 

 

 

 

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