Last year, the McCallum Theatre celebrated its two-year Crisalida Community Arts Project with a showcase called East Valley Voices Out Loud.
The goal of the project was to foster a relationship between the McCallum Theatre and artists in the underserved eastern Coachella Valley—and East Valley Voices Out Loud was a triumphant showcase of the fruits of that project.
While the Crisalida Community Arts Project’s James Irvine Foundation grant ended a year ago, the McCallum is bringing back East Valley Voices Out Loud for a second year, on Saturday, May 13.
Poet, playwright and musician David Gonzalez worked with the McCallum Theatre on the Crisalida Community Arts Project and put together the showcases both years. He explained what will be different about this year’s showcase.
“We have a bunch of new artists, and we have expanded the role of other artists who have mentored a couple of new people,” Gonzalez said. “We’re having a dance troupe from Mecca that is going to be performing, which should be really cool.”
The Crisalida Community Arts Project gave much-deserved attention to East Valley poets, musicians and more. Gonzalez said the project is still going, albeit in a “greatly reduced fashion.”
“The real emphasis is the showcase, but I’ve been doing some outreach and mentoring with people (from) other organizations,” Gonzalez said. “The issue right now is funding. We had a major grant for those first two years. This year, the McCallum has dipped into its own pocket to do this project. They are demonstrating their commitment to the East Valley through this. The intention is to keep doing East Valley Voices Out Loud, and to look for other sources so we can reboot and recharge Crisalida from where we left it a year ago.”
While the success of the project and last year’s East Valley Voices Out Loud was evident to anyone who talked to the participants, the efforts received some unfair criticism. A review by Bruce Fessier of The Desert Sun panned last year’s East Valley Voices Out Loud showcase, while prominent East Valley artist Armando Lerma, of the Date Farmers, harshly criticized the project. Gonzalez addressed some of that criticism.
“(Lerma) had a very skewered, egocentric, self-serving, defensive, destructive and myopic experience of it,” Gonzalez said. “I have negotiated many difficult situations and tried with my greatest skill to deflect and move that in a positive direction.”
As for Fessier’s critique, Gonzalez said East Valley Voices Out Loud was not meant for critical review.
“It was meant for social review, but not aesthetic review,” Gonzalez said. “To make comparisons to other organizations who put up community work was so ill-guided. Could it have been better? Of course! We had 35 amateurs onstage, and there were things that went haywire, but to take the platform of The Desert Sun and the platform of theater critic and turn that against an effort where we did over 350 community residency projects with so much blood and sweat and tears? It was so unfortunate.”
Local musician Giselle Woo took part in last year’s showcase and will return this year. She discussed what made last year’s experience special.
“It was my first time ever performing at a theater like the McCallum,” Woo said. “I think it makes it interesting, because it gives an opportunity for young Latinos—who make up the majority of people who performed in East Valley Voices Out Loud last year—to be performing there. Things like that are sometimes something we only get to dream of, and never get the chance to do.
“The west side is popping, but the east side has been, too, and it continues to do so—just with not a lot of coverage. It’s nice to expand the light.”
Woo said she’s hoping to step up her performance this year.
“I have plans to bring a band with me, if I could,” she said. “I’m still working on completing it. It’ll be alumni from College of the Desert and stuff like that.”
Carlos Garcia, from the East Valley Repertory Theatre, is another returning performer.
“One of the pieces we’re planning to do is an all-male production of monologues—spoken word, poetry and deconstructing masculinity,” Garcia said. “The working title right now is Bad Hombres, referencing what Trump said.”
Garcia said some of the works in this year’s showcase will undoubtedly address the politics over the last year.
“I think that it will possibly be more focused on what’s happening politically,” he said. “I personally am not. Our pieces are more personal, but I feel that other groups might get political. I don’t really care for that myself, but I feel with what’s happened in one year with Trump and with us being Latino performers, there will be some issues addressed.”
Garcia said last year’s experience was inspiring because it fostered community.
“We felt as actors and performers that we were inspiring other actors, poets and musicians. We were also inspired by the other performers,” he said. “We didn’t know each other, and through the East Valley Voices Out Loud showcase, we were able to come together and meet each other. For one night, we are one group united, and that’s one thing I really enjoy about that.”
Gonzalez expressed optimism that the Crisalida project and the East Valley Voices Out Loud showcases will continue. He explained what the community can do to help.
“The first thing is to show up and hear the voices,” he said. “Hear, see and feel the East Valley community as it takes a step into the West Valley. Don’t go on preconceptions and what you’ve read. Come with a sense of openness and discovery, and stay afterward to shake hands, get invites or invite other people. The only way this bridge is going to be built is hand-to-hand and eye-to-eye. The showcase is a chance to do just that.
East Valley Voices Out Loud takes place at 8 p.m., Saturday, May 13, at the McCallum Theatre, 73000 Fred Waring Drive, in Palm Desert. Tickets are $9 to $22. For tickets or more information, call 760-340-2787, or visit www.mccallumtheatre.com.