by Lorie Lewis Ham
Theatre is back in varying degrees and this weekend the Selma Arts Center will be presenting Zoot Suit by Luis Valdez. We took a moment to interview the show’s director and Vice-Chairman of the Selma Arts Council, Juan Luis Guzman, about the show.
KRL: What is this show about?
Juan: Zoot Suit is based on real life events and people and tells the story of Henry Reyna and the 38th Street Gang, a group of Latino youth who were tried for the Sleepy Lagoon murder in Los Angeles, during World War II. It explores the rising discrimination toward Chicanos, or Mexican-Americans and the zoot suiters of the 1940s, while examining the ways in which the press influenced the sentiments of many during this time period. It’s also the story about a family, about love and relationships, about legacy and pride, all of it set against Los Angeles in the early 1940s.
KRL: Is it a straight play or a musical?
Juan: Zoot Suit is often talked about as a play with music, so it does have some musical numbers though it is dialogue heavy. I consider it a musical for a number of reasons, even if the show doesn’t include as many numbers as one might expect in a more traditional musical. Regardless of what you call it, it’s certainly something special to experience.
KRL: Why was this particular show chosen? Why do you feel that this play is important?
Juan: I’ve always been shocked, really, that this show isn’t produced more often in our area. Not only is it born from the Teatro Campesino, Luis Valdez’s historic theatre troupe which marched with Cesar Chavez and used the stage to educate and rally farmworkers—farmworkers from our own little towns, mind you—it’s also a legendary show! Some readers might even know of the play from the film version that was released starring Edward James Olmos. Zoot Suit was the first (and likely the only!) Chicano play to make it to Broadway and puts people we don’t usually see depicted on stage at the front and center. I know this play is going to mean a lot to our community, to people who don’t often see themselves depicted in places like the theatre stage.
KRL: Why did you personally want to direct this show?
Juan: This show has lived with me for a very long time. When I first joined the Selma Arts Council, I had this show in my pocket and always imagined the opportunity to see it staged at SAC. To me, it’s a story of my own lineage and that of many others in my life and the communities I inhabit. were We recently promoted the show in a parade and it was wild to see so many people respond to us with a story or a memory of a family member or friend who was a Zooter, or spoke the Pachuco slang known as calo. Ultimately, I had a platform and opportunity to share this important story with a community I cherish and I took it.
KRL: What was the hardest part about directing this show?
Juan: There were many challenges that came with undertaking this production. The historical aspect of the show is certainly something that I wanted to give extra consideration to. We were lucky to have a dramaturg on the production team, Lia Dewey, who, among so many other things, created an incredible annotated dramaturgical script, which explained historical references and slang and shared context. She helped educate audiences by creating social media content that gave historical references and background information that might be helpful for audiences to watch before the show. Check them out on any SAC social media platforms.
KRL: Was it a challenge to find the costumes?
Juan: Yes! It was tricky to find not only 1940’s attire, but Pachuco style clothing and Zoot suits, which aren’t too common—and usually very expensive. Along with our own supply and costume elves, we also worked with Bebe O’s, a vintage store in Fresno’s, to help costume the cast.
KRL: What Covid precautions will be taken for the performances?
Juan: Any CDC guidelines in place during performances will be fully enforced. Masks are required unless fully vaccinated.
KRL: What are the dates and times of the performances?
KRL: How much are the tickets and how do you purchase them?
Juan: $21 Adults $15 children under 13 $19 senior/students/military. Tickets are available by calling 559.891.2238, by visiting selmaartscenter.com/tickets or at the Selma Arts Center box office located at 1935 High Street, Selma, CA 93662. Box office hours are Tuesday-Thursday 1PM-5PM. A processing fee will be applied when purchasing online and in the box office. Groups of 10 or more can get $2 off with coupon code GROUP2 Season Members may apply their Member benefits for this production. For questions or renewal please call (559) 891-2238.
KRL: Anything else that you would like to share?
Juan: This is truly a revolutionary show and one you don’t want to miss. We are so happy to be back indoors and can’t wait to see you there!
You can find more theatre articles, and other entertainment articles, in our Arts & Entertainment section.
If you love local theatre, be sure to check out our new Mysteryrat’s Maze Podcast, which features mysteries read by local actors. You can check the podcast out on Apple Podcasts and Google Play, and also on podbean.