Sacramento’s Teatro Espejo has been showcasing Latinx talent for over 40 years. (Photo by Fran Garcia, courtesy of Teatro Espejo)

Fresh Perspectives at Sacramento’s Oldest Latinx Theater

How Teatro Espejo launches careers and enriches the community

Back Web Only Aug 24, 2023 By Melissa LuVisi

If you pass the intersection where Sacramento’s Natural Foods Co-Op faces the food bank and walk along the light rail tracks, you’ll discover the city’s oldest Latinx and Chicano theater, Teatro Espejo. Founded by Artistic Director Manuel José Pickett, a professor emeritus at Sacramento State, the organization has been committed to serving the Chicano and Latinx Community for over 40 years. The space seats a mere 44 people and feels even smaller. The intimacy is visceral: It draws you into the production as if you could step into the scene, plop down on a couch and converse with the characters. 

The theater’s 2023 Summer One-Act Festival featured a series of three short plays crafted by emerging Latinx playwrights and actors. Highlighting local talent, fresh perspectives and underrepresented stories, the festival showcased the value of creative organizations like Teatro Espejo and the importance of investing in the arts. 

There are real numbers behind this importance. The Los Angeles-based economic consultancy practice CVL Economics reports that “local governments could see a combined loss of $4.1 billion in tax revenues over the next four years” if performing arts organizations, especially smaller and nonprofit companies, continue to see low attendance and high operating costs. These organizations can also make transformative contributions to a city’s culture, infrastructure and community. Teatro Espejo exemplifies how the performing arts can enrich a community and launch careers. 

This year’s one-act festival began with “My Corner,” written by Gerardo Rodriguez and directed by Antonio Hernandez. Two brothers unite to help the younger pursue his boxing career after their abusive father abandoned them. The actors executed their performances mercilessly; in one scene, the clang of a chair thrown in anger echoes the memory of the father’s abuse. While abuse is a common trope in storytelling, it was a brave subject to broach considering implicit bias in America around the idea of machismo. Theaters like Teatro Espejo command attention and invite the audience into conversation.

The second performance was “White Iris,” written by Maria Girón and directed by Des Silva. The act follows young Iris, a proud Latinx woman, through the challenges of modern dating, specifically with white partners. The audience stumbles alongside Iris through awkward pillow talk with her partner, lectures from her mother, and a psychedelic mushroom-induced encounter with a specter of her abuelita, scenes that highlight the complexities of mixed-race identity in interpersonal relationships.

The final act, “La Norteña” by Rodolfo Robles Cruz and directed by Alexis Arriaga, concludes the series with a heartfelt and honest confrontation between Elisa, a Mexican American woman, and Chayo, her campesina cousin born and raised in Mexico. The juxtaposition of the cousins’ stories reveal their shared alienation. They’ve lived different experiences with different challenges, privileges and resentments, but the one thing they have in common is their shared Mexican heritage. Threading together the three acts, this conversation reminds us that the Latinx diaspora is anything but a monolith.

Over the past four decades, Teatro Espejo has nurtured many careers, says founding president and former board member Nicole C. Limón. “This festival is about giving opportunities to people,” Limón says. “If you want to direct or act, you can find long-standing and experienced mentors to help you work on your craft. Teatro Espejo provides all the resources emerging artists need. We’ve always been a theater home.”

Limón went on to found her own company, Matriarchy Theater. “In fact, Teatro Espejo offered to co-produce and fund my first production, helping me launch,” she says.

Another beneficiary of the Teatro Espejo network is Ike Torres, festival coordinator. In 2018, Torres had his first solo performance at the one-act festival, part of his evolution from spoken word artist to theatrical performer to touring director. 

“Teatro Espejo has taught me how to navigate the entertainment business with integrity, humanity, and commitment to the community that supports the work that we do,” says Torres, adding that Pickett provided him “the opportunity to mentor, coach and assist in the growth of future generations of Teatristas. I will forever be grateful to Teatro Espejo.”

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