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Su Teatro’s St Cajetan’s Reunification Project: A lesson ‘about what was’

By Cliff Foster

Yolanda Ortega, long-time Metro State administrator, plays a lead character in Su Teatro’s production of “El Corrido del Barrio.” It was written and is directed by Tony Garcia, an affiliate professor and artistic director of Su Teatro.
Su Teatro’s production of “El Corrido del Barrio” in December has meaning for the cast, the theater company, and Metro State and the Auraria Campus.

It’s a story about displaced Aurarians and the spirit of a community that was upended to make way for construction of the campus. The cast includes long-time Metro State administrator Yolanda Ortega, who has been acting in Su Teatro’s productions for many years. And it is being produced in light of the theater’s return to the Westside neighborhood.

The production is part of the St. Cajetan’s Reunification Project, annual rotating stage performances that are meant, in part, to reunite one-time neighbors who lost their homes and businesses when the Auraria Higher Education Center was built.

“It was designed to bring together people who lived there, people who never heard of Auraria, people from campus…to learn about what was,” says Ortega, interim director of the Center for Urban Connections and retired vice president for student services.

The reunification performance will be held in Su Teatro’s new home in the Denver Civic Theater at 721 Santa Fe Drive. “This year it’s important to us,” says Tony Garcia, artistic director for Su Teatro and affiliate professor in the Department of Chicana/o Studies. “Su Teatro actually made the trip and moved back into the Westside” from the old Elyria School in Northeast Denver. “This is our year that we’re here for sure, for good.”

Garcia wrote the play in 1976 and it’s been performed several times. He was baptized at St. Cajetan’s church, went to elementary school where the King Center is located, and lived in a house near the West Classroom building. “I’ve told people a lot of times I just imagine as I walk the streets all the people that lived there.”

Garcia says the performance is a juxtaposition “of very dark subject matter but there’s humor involved in it.”

Ortega and actress Debra Gallegos play the lead characters, next door neighbors whose families grew up together. Ortega’s character, Vecina Lina, is a high-strung whirlwind, as Garcia put it. “She’s funny as heck, I love playing that role,” Ortega says. Gallegos’ character, Comadre Isabel, is rooted, analytical, a fountain of wisdom. The story, set in the late 1960s and early ‘70s, touches on life in the neighborhood, the characters’ daily lives, important moments (Isabel’s son is sent to the Vietnam War and returns to college), and the displacement, which was accompanied by Metro State, CU Denver and CCD scholarships for residents and their descendants.

“It’s about what was lost but also the perseverance of people assessing, challenging, and reaffirming those things that are important to us like community,” Garcia says.

The cast is a mix of veterans and newcomers to the stage. “It’s been a fabulous collaboration,” Ortega says. “They’re learning a lot about the history from us but we’re also learning from them. You often don’t have a show that’s cast with that much of a range.”

“El Corrido del Barrio,” Dec. 1-18, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, 7:30 p.m.; matinee performances, 3 p.m., Saturday and Sunday. Metro State students can receive up to four free tickets through the Department of Chicana/o Studies. All others: $20 general admission, $17 students/seniors. Su Teatro: 303-296-0219.


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