Play Promotes Dialogue on Gun Violence

SJSU’s production of Bang Bang You’re Dead runs at Hammer Theatre through December 7.

The curtain opens on a young man lying on a jail cot, haunted by the ghosts of four high schoolers—classmates he killed. William Matrosimone’s Bang Bang You’re Dead tells the story of a school shooting from the perspective of the perpetrator, a troubled teen named Josh who responds to years of bullying and insecurity by bringing his rifle to school.

San Jose State’s School Touring Ensemble Program, directed by Theatre Arts Professor Buddy Butler, performed the play at three Silicon Valley high schools in late November before arriving at the Hammer Theatre for free live performances December 4-7. Butler will host talk-backs following each show, culminating in a community discussion on December 7 involving the city of San Jose and local chapters of anti-violence groups Moms Demand Action and Students Demand Action.

Butler said it is especially important to bring the performance to high schools, many of which practice routine shooter safety drills, and some of which have experienced threats of gun violence. The play gives insight into the shooter’s frame of mind, grapples with toxic masculinity, peer pressure and bullying.

The play is being presented as part of the College of Humanities and the Arts’ Borderlands series, which explores blurring boundaries, breaking barriers and building bridges. Butler sees theatre as an opportunity to provoke conversation around difficult issues—and in this play’s case, break down the psychology of a largely American phenomenon.

“I see the play as breaking barriers that are placed on our young people attending public and private schools today,” said Butler. “The barrier of safety and security has been blurred. Schools were once a place where we sent our children to learn and grow in a healthy and safe environment. That is no longer the case. There are gun violence drills, not just earthquake drills. We have created borders around and within our schools. Bang Bang You’re Dead is a resource for dealing with a broken world that is violent, unhealthy, unfair and beyond of anyone to fix except today’s generation. We cannot exist and grow in a world that festers fear.”

Between being haunted by ghosts and attending an imaginary trial of his crimes, the protagonist remembers his first time hunting deer. He does not want to kill the animal, and yet is rewarded for ending its life. Throughout the play, his four dead classmates repeat a chilling refrain: “You make your face a mask. / A mask that hides your face. / A face that hides the pain. / A pain that eats your heart. / A heart that nobody knows.”

Butler first produced the play at SJSU in 2013, following the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Connecticut. At the time, he felt America had “reached its height” of school tragedies, though incidents in the years since have proven otherwise. According to data from Everytown for Gun Safety, an organization that has documented gun violence at schools since 2013, there have been at least 492 incidents of gunfire on American school grounds over the past six years, resulting in 188 deaths, including 33 suicides and 377 injuries, including six self-harm injuries. Butler’s teenage daughter, who attends high school in San Jose, has been warned of threats of gun violence on campus as recently as October.

Bang Bang You’re Dead is a sobering show,” Butler said. “It forces students to ask themselves, how would the world be different without you in it? What happens to your potential? I hope this is the last time we produce this show—that we can put this issue to rest—but it probably won’t be. There’s no cure for this phenomenon. That’s why we need to talk about it.”

Bang Bang You’re Dead will be at the Hammer Theatre Center’s Hammer 4 Theatre on December 4, 5, 6 and 7. Reserve tickets.

 

Dreamer Project: An Undocuplay at Hammer Theatre through November 24

Photo courtesy of Hammer Theatre Center.

Seventeen actors stand in a circle facing the audience. One by one they address the crowd and say a number—”Seven!” “Three!” “Ten!” “Four!”—until the final actor says, “I was eight months old when I was brought to the United States.” The actors, San Jose State students and alumni, bring the words of fellow Spartans to life in Dreamer Project: An Undocuplay, a verbatim theater project created from interviews with SJSU undocumented students by SJSU Film and Theatre Lecturer Kathleen Normington. The performance opened at Hammer Theatre Center on Friday, November 15, and runs through November 24.

“You hear these stories and ‘DACA’ or ‘undocumented’ are not labels anymore,” said Normington. “They are people with stories that we will remember. That’s what I’m hoping.”

Undocumented individuals come to the United States from all over the world in a variety of ways. Some undocumented students qualify for AB540 and AB2000, California legislation that allows undocumented immigrants who have attended elementary, middle or high school in state for at least three years to pay in-state tuition. The 2011 California Dream Act made it possible for undocumented students meeting specific requirements to qualify for state-funded financial aid. Some are eligible for two-year work permits through Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a federal immigration policy introduced by President Obama in 2012. Unless undocumented immigrants have been granted DACA, they are not legally authorized to work.

Undocumented immigrants who pursue any of these options must sign an affidavit that discloses their immigration status to the government. Regardless of their status, at San Jose State they are united by a common goal: to pursue an education.

Normington was unaware of the significant challenges faced by her undocumented, DACA and AB540 students until one of them approached her on November 8, 2016—the last presidential election. The student lamented that she wished she could vote, sparking a conversation about the complexity of the immigration system and the competing desires of high-achieving students who sometimes felt limited by their status. Normington began interviewing students with the idea that perhaps there would be a concrete way to educate others about this reality.

By spring 2018, she had assembled a script based on interviews with more than 30 students. Normington assembled a student cast, revised the script and workshopped the play in fall 2018 with a one-night performance at Hammer Theatre. Following the show, the Department of Film and Theatre funded Normington’s full production as part of the 2019-2020 Borderlands: Immigration and Migration in the 21st Century programming, which focuses on blurring boundaries, breaking barriers and building bridges.

“I have been at San Jose State for 20 years and, before the 2016 election, I’d never had a student reveal their immigration status to me,” said Normington. “This has been a journey to learn more so I can better understand our students. I have so much more empathy and understanding, not just for undocumented students, but for all of my students. You don’t know what somebody’s going through until you walk in their shoes. And I want everyone to feel like they have walked in the shoes of one of our students by the end of each performance. It will grip you.”

Throughout the creative process, Normington returned to her interviewees, collaborated with dramaturg Cándido Tirado, consulted with community leaders from the UndocuSpartan Resource Center and with other faculty members, and updated the script to keep up with changes in immigration policy and national rhetoric.

“I hope people see a different side of illegal immigration,” said Jose Garcia-Gomez, ’19 Theatre Arts, who recited his own life story in the play. “I know they will. I hope more undocumented people come out of the shadows. I want people to know that we want basic human rights and nothing more. We are not dangerous. We are not criminals. We are innovators. We are artists. We are students. We are parents. Since all of us are SJSU students, I think this has a positive impact in our community.”

Tickets for Dreamer Project: An Undocuplay are available on the Hammer Theatre Center website: $10 with valid student ID; $20 general admission.

 

SJSU Assistant Professor Named SVCreates 2019 Backstage Laureate

2019 Backstage Laureate: Andrea Bechert from SVCREATES on Vimeo.

Andrea Bechert, an assistant professor and designer in SJSU’s Department of Film and Theatre program, has been named SVCreates 2019 Backstage Laureate for her exemplary scene and set designs for more than 350 productions, including world premieres across the country and many Silicon Valley shows. Bechert will be honored along with seven other artists, musicians and authors at the 2019 SVArts Awards June 27 and her profile will be featured in July/August issue of Content Magazine.

“I received a call in March telling me I was receiving the award,” she said. “I was quite floored. This is an incredible honor. There are so many talented and wonderful people I work with, and incredible artists who have received this award before me.”

She describes her work as a scenic designer as a unique and magical task.

Assistant Professor Andrea Bechert poses with set models. SVCreates named her 2019 Backstage Laureate. Photo Courtesy of SVCreates.

Assistant Professor Andrea Bechert poses with set models. SVCreates named her 2019 Backstage Laureate. Photo Courtesy of SVCreates.

“I create a new world for each production of a play, unique to the particular characters, their struggles and stories,” she said. “When I do my job well, the audience connects with these visuals, becoming engrossed in the experience of the play, and are transported momentarily into the world of the characters.”

She uses the arrangement and composition of visual elements to inspire mental and emotional connections in the audience members’ minds.

While classes are out, Bechert remains busy working on a few projects, including a production of The Language Archives for Tony Award-winning TheatreWorks Silicon Valley’s 50th season; a production of The Cottage produced by Florida Studio Theatre in Sarasota, and In the Heights produced by the Center Repertory Theatre. This fall, she will work on SJSU production of a new work created and directed by Kathleen Normington, an SJSU lecturer, called (dreamer) Project – an UndocuPlay. The play is based on stories of SJSU students.

“Live theater is such a magical experience,” Bechert said. “We gather together as a group to witness a live event that moves us to laughter and tears, sharing in the experience of the characters before us, considering the elements of our shared humanity.”

As a scenic designer with hundreds of productions on her resume, Bechert finds it hard to select a favorite. But she names a few through the years that are especially dear to her heart. Peter Pan, Macbeth and A Midsummer Nights Dream top the list, and her recent work on Fun Home last fall.

“This new musical, adapted by Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesori from Alison Bechdel’s 2006 graphic memoir of the same name, is the first Broadway musical with a lesbian protagonist,” she said. “The story is touching and important, the music is beautiful, and the team I worked with at TheatreWorks are some of the most talented and wonderful people on this planet. How could that combination be anything other than fantastic?”

The show received a Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle Award for design and the overall production. Bechert has especially enjoyed working with TheatreWorks, where she has designed 35 productions through the years. Founder and Artistic Director Robert Kelley will lead his final season with the theatre this year.

“I am the ‘bookends’ of the season,” she noted. “I will be designing the first show of the season, The Language Archive, and the final show, which will be Robert Kelley’s final show, The Book of Will.”

“When you collaborate with the same people on stories that touch your soul time and time again, they become like family,” she said. “I am so happy that TheatreWorks received the Tony Award this year for their exceptional achievements.”

In addition to TheatreWorks, Bechert has designed for the Colorado Shakespeare Festival, The Cleveland Playhouse, Berkeley Repertory Theatre, American Musical Theatre of San Jose, Opera San Jose, Center Repertory Theatre, the Magic Theatre, Marin Theatre Company, Peninsula Youth Theatre, San Jose Children’s Musical Theatre Company, the Stardust Casino in Las Vegas, and many others. She has received more than 20 regional design awards.

View examples of her scenic design online.

Teaching the Immigrant Experience Through Theater

Teaching the Immigrant Experience Through Theater

Teaching the Immigrant Experience Through Theater

SJSU’s Matthew Spangler was the playwright for the San Jose Repertory Theatre and Arizona Theatre Company production of “The Kite Runner,” which featured, from left to right, Craig Piaget (Young Amir) and Lowell Abellon (Hassan) (photo by Kevin Berne).

San Jose State University has received a $162,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to host a summer institute for school teachers titled “The California Immigrant Experience through Literature and Theatre.”

The institute will be held July 13-27, 2014, at SJSU. Faculty members will include Maxine Hong Kingston (author of “The Woman Warrior”), Ping Chong (theater artist) and Luis Valdez, ’64 English (author of “Zoot Suit” and “La Bamba”). See below for more.

Associate Professor of Performance and Communication Studies Matthew Spangler and Professor of Radio, TV, Film and Theatre Arts David Kahn will serve as hosts and co-directors for the institute.

This institute will explore some of the ways in which the immigrant experience to the United States, and California, in particular, has been represented through literary and theatrical texts,” Spangler said.

Activities will be organized around three topics that frequently appear in such texts: (1) the construction of political borders between geographic territories and social borders between groups of people; (2) intercultural conflict between settled and immigrant communities; (3) changing family and gender dynamics within discrete immigrant communities.

Participants will explore these topics as they pertain to emigration from Mexico, China and Afghanistan.

Theater workshop

Among the highlights of the institute is a three-day theater workshop with Ping Chong, an internationally renowned theater artist known for his work in intercultural and documentary theater. In this workshop, Ping Chong will guide participants through some of the steps involved in creating a documentary theater production based on the topic of immigration.

On Friday, July 25, participants will showcase the results of this workshop in a theater performance open to the public.

Time: 7:30 p.m.
Location: Hal Todd Theatre, SJSU
Cost: Free
For Reservations: call 408-924-1373 or email CAimmigrationinstitute@gmail.com

Eligibility

Institute participants will include 25 school teachers competitively selected from around the country. Eligibility: Full-time or part-time teachers in American K-12 schools, whether public, charter, independent, or religiously affiliated, as well as home-schooling parents, are eligible to apply to NEH Summer Institutes. Americans teaching abroad are also eligible if a majority of the students they teach are American citizens.

Librarians, school administrators and graduate students may also apply. The deadline is March 4, 2014.

For questions or to request additional information please contact Project Coordinator Maria Judnick (CAimmigrationinstitute@gmail.com) or Matthew Spangler (matthew.spangler@sjsu.edu, 650-714-3622) or visit the institute website.

Faculty

Maxine Hong Kingston (author of “The Woman Warrior,” “China Men” and other novels; Professor Emeritus, UC Berkeley)

Ping Chong (internationally acclaimed theater director, playwright, video and installation artist; author of “East West Quartet” and creator of “Undesirable Elements” performance series)

Luis Valdez (author of “Zoot Suit,” “La Bamba”; founder of El Teatro Campesino)

Kinan Valdez (actor, director, and producing artistic director of El Teatro Campesino)

Donna Gabaccia (author of “Immigration and American Diversity,” among many other authored and edited books on the immigrant experience; Professor of History, University of Minnesota)

Kelly Lytle-Hernández (author of “Migra: A History of the U.S. Border Patrol,” among other articles and books on immigration from Mexico to the United States; Associate Professor of History, UCLA)

Judy Yung (author of “Angel Island: Immigrant Gateway to America,” among other articles and books on immigration from China to the United States; Professor of American Studies, UC Santa Cruz)

Sharon Ott, (theatre director and former artistic director of Berkeley Repertory Theatre; Performing Arts Faculty Savannah College of Art and Design)

David Terry (a specialist on the performance of space and place; Assistant Professor of Communication and Performance Studies, San Jose State University)

Glen Gendzel (author of numerous articles on immigration; Associate Professor of History, San Jose State University)

Sara Zatz (Associate Director of Ping Chong & Company; program director of “Undesirable Elements” performance series)

Matthew Spangler (author of numerous articles and plays about transnational migration, including award-winning adaptations of Khaled Hosseini’s “The Kite Runner” and T.C. Boyle’s “The Tortilla Curtain”; Associate Professor of Performance Studies, San Jose State University)

David Kahn (a specialist in documentary theatre performance; Professor of Theatre Arts, San Jose State University)

Faculty Awards 2 Slideshow

2012-2013 Outstanding Lecturer: Kathleen Normington

2012-2013 Outstanding Lecturer: Kathleen Normington

2012-2013 Outstanding Lecturer Kathleen Normington (Peter Caravalho photo)

The Outstanding Lecturer Award recognizes a lecturer for excellence in teaching effectiveness and service to the San Jose State campus community. This year’s winner comes from the College of Humanities and the Arts.

Kathleen Normington enjoys staging guerrilla theatre performances on campus and in the community, where her students are taken out of the “theatre space.” Creating innovative approaches to learning outside of the classroom has helped her earn the 2012-2013 Outstanding Lecturer Award.

A lecturer since earning her master’s in theatre arts from San Jose State in 2004, Normington uses her 12 years of teaching experience to bring creativity to her students. She supplies the opportunity for them to genuinely experience theatre by providing them with the tools to put their coursework into practice and by teaching them to be fearless and to take risks.

One student said: “The engaging exercises and skills practiced and rehearsed during lecture and laboratory hours provide an open, supportive and safe creative environment where artists find themselves grounded, present and connected to the work and, perhaps most importantly, themselves and each other.”

“As a researcher, director and teacher Kathleen has a natural curiosity. It is her enthusiasm for and understanding of a broad spectrum of performing art that makes her such an eclectic artist and teacher,” said one nominator. “She also has an exacting eye. As a director, and really in every aspect of her work, she brings taste and specificity. From her understanding of language and story to her intuition about staging and character, Kathleen brings intelligence and restraint to her work.”

Normington’s service to San Jose State extends beyond the classroom. She has directed 11 plays at SJSU and four plays in the community. Normington is co-author of Simply Acting: A Handbook for the Student Actor and Simply Theatre: Appreciating Performance of the 21st Century, two textbooks that support courses taught at San Jose State. She was actively involved in revamping the theatre arts curriculum, and has created course certification reports. Normington serves as lead instructor for sizeable multi-section general education courses that are essential components to the theatre program.

“I hope that students realize that the humanity of theatre is what connects us all,” Normington said. “There is not just one way, but many ways to connect that in their lives.”

Normington earned a bachelor’s degree from UC Berkeley and a master’s degree from San Jose State.

San Diego Union-Tribune: Professor’s “Tortilla Curtain” Portrays Many Faces of Undocumented Immigration

Theater preview: Rep lifts ‘Curtain’

World-premiere play an edgily satiric saga of immigration’s complexities

Published by the San Diego Union-Tribune March 8, 2012.

By James Hebert

The pair of struggling immigrants in “Tortilla Curtain” — like countless of their counterparts in real life — would move heaven and earth to make a better life for their family.

But in San Diego Repertory Theatre’s world-premiere stage adaptation of T.C. Boyle’s novel, the earth winds up moving in a manner more literal than they could have imagined — and in a way that’s maybe too symbolic for audiences to ignore.

Rep co-founder and artistic director Sam Woodhouse, who is directing playwright Matthew Spangler’s adaptation of the 1994 best-seller, hesitates to give away too much about the natural cataclysm that accompanies the novel’s (and the show’s) climax.

But “we can certainly say that, inspired by the folly of a particular character, an enormous environmental event occurs,” Woodhouse allows. “The landscape is literally transformed.

“There’s a metaphor there: What happens if the Tortilla Curtain (the term Boyle invokes for the U.S.-Mexico border) becomes porous? Will the landscape of California be transformed forever?”

Some might argue that has long since happened. The debate over illegal immigration certainly has transformed the Southwest’s political landscape through the decades — and continues to do so, with recent battles over Arizona’s strict 2010 immigration law and the DREAM Act (which would offer residency to some illegal immigrants who arrived here as minors).

So although Boyle’s darkly satirical novel came out amid the furor over earlier immigration legislation — California’s sweeping Proposition 187 in 1994 (which won at the polls but eventually died in court) — its themes haven’t lost their potency, Woodhouse says.

“It’s fun to do a play about something that everybody has an opinion about,” as the director puts it. “Everybody who comes to the play is part of a culture that’s living with this issue. If you live in San Diego, you can’t pretend you’re not impacted by it.”

Barriers of all kinds

At the center of the “Tortilla” story are two undocumented Mexican laborers: Cándido Rincón (Kinan Valdez) and his pregnant, common-law wife, América (Old Globe/USD MFA grad Vivia Font).

Their dreams of a more prosperous existence in California have run up against the brutal realities of predatory smugglers, scant jobs and hostile residents. Now they’re living in desperation and destitution in Los Angeles’ Topanga Canyon, in the shadows of a hilltop gated community.

When one of that neighborhood’s residents — an affluent “liberal humanist” named Delaney Mossbacher (Mike Sears), who’s married to lawyer Kyra (Lisel Gorell-Getz) — accidentally hits Cándido with his car, the couples’ lives become an intertwined spiral of chaos. (The Rep production’s cast also features Miles Gaston Villanueva, David Meyers and Jeremy Kahn.)

Spangler, a professor of playwriting and immigration studies at San Jose State University who adapted Khaled Hosseini’s novel “The Kite Runner” for the stage, notes that people like Cándido and América represent only a fraction of the 12 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. (Some are, for example, students or foreign workers with expired visas).

But those who are like the couple in his play “don’t have the same access to some of the civil and legal protections that the rest of us do. And that’s something the book and this play point to. There are some horrible things that happen to the immigrant characters here, and they can’t go to the police. They can’t mount a lawsuit against somebody who has wronged them.

“Of course, there are a lot of works that can focus on that theme. But one thing I liked about (Boyle’s novel) is that it’s also a point-of-view piece. So not only do you have the immigrants’ point of view, but you have the nativists’, the locals’ — the point of view of the settled community.

“And then I suppose as I read the book I liked its humor. It is kind of a dark, satirical story. That’s the type of thing that in many ways appeals to me. I wanted to see if we could capture that onstage.”

The script he came up with (which earned Boyle’s blessing, Spangler says) has Cándido, América and Delaney each addressing the audience directly at times, with Kyra becoming a secondary figure.

“There are 33 scenes in the play, and each is told from a different point of view,” Spangler explains. “So by the end, the audience starts to know more than any of the three (main) characters. That’s part of the conceit of the book and the play — that they start acting on knowledge that they think they have.”

Tales that humanize

Valdez, who’s the producing artistic director of El Teatro Campesino — the iconic Chicano troupe founded in 1965 by his father, playwright Luis Valdez — says the approach gets at the heart of the characters’ contrasting realities.

“The best way to humanize any particular story or person is to allow (the individuals) to explain their choices,” says Valdez, who has acted in Rep productions dating back to the 1990s. “My character has these elaborate, what you might call fantasy sequences, where he explains his particular past. But it’s framed in such a way that’s it’s definitely not naturalistic or realistic. In fact, it’s more comedic.

“Everybody’s going to work to make their arguments and defend the choices they’ve made; everybody is selective in the revelations of certain material and certain experiences.”

In some ways, “Tortilla Curtain” shares artistic DNA with “American Night: The Ballad of Juan José,” another immigration-minded (though more farcical) work that recently was staged at La Jolla Playhouse.

Woodhouse directed a production of that play in Denver; now Herbert Siguenza, a charter member of the troupe Culture Clash — which co-created “American Night” — has been advising Woodhouse and the “Tortilla Curtain” creative team. (Siguenza also portrayed Cándido in an earlier workshop of “Tortilla.”)

But the new play is also of a piece with the Rep’s long history of producing works that speak to border issues, chiefly through its Calafia Initiative, which has birthed about two dozen works since 1995.

For Woodhouse, a key question behind “Tortilla Curtain” is one of privilege versus obligation.

“We have a big, prosperous, churning country — the richest in the world,” as he puts it. “Who has the right to share in that? And who has the right to say who can share in that?”

As the decades-long immigration debate has demonstrated, those are complicated and divisive issues.

“But if there’s no controversy,” Woodhouse says, “we’re not asking the right questions about how to make our country a better place to live.”

San Diego Union-Tribune: Professor's "Tortilla Curtain" Portrays Many Faces of Undocumented Immigration

Theater preview: Rep lifts ‘Curtain’

World-premiere play an edgily satiric saga of immigration’s complexities

Published by the San Diego Union-Tribune March 8, 2012.

By James Hebert

The pair of struggling immigrants in “Tortilla Curtain” — like countless of their counterparts in real life — would move heaven and earth to make a better life for their family.

But in San Diego Repertory Theatre’s world-premiere stage adaptation of T.C. Boyle’s novel, the earth winds up moving in a manner more literal than they could have imagined — and in a way that’s maybe too symbolic for audiences to ignore.

Rep co-founder and artistic director Sam Woodhouse, who is directing playwright Matthew Spangler’s adaptation of the 1994 best-seller, hesitates to give away too much about the natural cataclysm that accompanies the novel’s (and the show’s) climax.

But “we can certainly say that, inspired by the folly of a particular character, an enormous environmental event occurs,” Woodhouse allows. “The landscape is literally transformed.

“There’s a metaphor there: What happens if the Tortilla Curtain (the term Boyle invokes for the U.S.-Mexico border) becomes porous? Will the landscape of California be transformed forever?”

Some might argue that has long since happened. The debate over illegal immigration certainly has transformed the Southwest’s political landscape through the decades — and continues to do so, with recent battles over Arizona’s strict 2010 immigration law and the DREAM Act (which would offer residency to some illegal immigrants who arrived here as minors).

So although Boyle’s darkly satirical novel came out amid the furor over earlier immigration legislation — California’s sweeping Proposition 187 in 1994 (which won at the polls but eventually died in court) — its themes haven’t lost their potency, Woodhouse says.

“It’s fun to do a play about something that everybody has an opinion about,” as the director puts it. “Everybody who comes to the play is part of a culture that’s living with this issue. If you live in San Diego, you can’t pretend you’re not impacted by it.”

Barriers of all kinds

At the center of the “Tortilla” story are two undocumented Mexican laborers: Cándido Rincón (Kinan Valdez) and his pregnant, common-law wife, América (Old Globe/USD MFA grad Vivia Font).

Their dreams of a more prosperous existence in California have run up against the brutal realities of predatory smugglers, scant jobs and hostile residents. Now they’re living in desperation and destitution in Los Angeles’ Topanga Canyon, in the shadows of a hilltop gated community.

When one of that neighborhood’s residents — an affluent “liberal humanist” named Delaney Mossbacher (Mike Sears), who’s married to lawyer Kyra (Lisel Gorell-Getz) — accidentally hits Cándido with his car, the couples’ lives become an intertwined spiral of chaos. (The Rep production’s cast also features Miles Gaston Villanueva, David Meyers and Jeremy Kahn.)

Spangler, a professor of playwriting and immigration studies at San Jose State University who adapted Khaled Hosseini’s novel “The Kite Runner” for the stage, notes that people like Cándido and América represent only a fraction of the 12 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. (Some are, for example, students or foreign workers with expired visas).

But those who are like the couple in his play “don’t have the same access to some of the civil and legal protections that the rest of us do. And that’s something the book and this play point to. There are some horrible things that happen to the immigrant characters here, and they can’t go to the police. They can’t mount a lawsuit against somebody who has wronged them.

“Of course, there are a lot of works that can focus on that theme. But one thing I liked about (Boyle’s novel) is that it’s also a point-of-view piece. So not only do you have the immigrants’ point of view, but you have the nativists’, the locals’ — the point of view of the settled community.

“And then I suppose as I read the book I liked its humor. It is kind of a dark, satirical story. That’s the type of thing that in many ways appeals to me. I wanted to see if we could capture that onstage.”

The script he came up with (which earned Boyle’s blessing, Spangler says) has Cándido, América and Delaney each addressing the audience directly at times, with Kyra becoming a secondary figure.

“There are 33 scenes in the play, and each is told from a different point of view,” Spangler explains. “So by the end, the audience starts to know more than any of the three (main) characters. That’s part of the conceit of the book and the play — that they start acting on knowledge that they think they have.”

Tales that humanize

Valdez, who’s the producing artistic director of El Teatro Campesino — the iconic Chicano troupe founded in 1965 by his father, playwright Luis Valdez — says the approach gets at the heart of the characters’ contrasting realities.

“The best way to humanize any particular story or person is to allow (the individuals) to explain their choices,” says Valdez, who has acted in Rep productions dating back to the 1990s. “My character has these elaborate, what you might call fantasy sequences, where he explains his particular past. But it’s framed in such a way that’s it’s definitely not naturalistic or realistic. In fact, it’s more comedic.

“Everybody’s going to work to make their arguments and defend the choices they’ve made; everybody is selective in the revelations of certain material and certain experiences.”

In some ways, “Tortilla Curtain” shares artistic DNA with “American Night: The Ballad of Juan José,” another immigration-minded (though more farcical) work that recently was staged at La Jolla Playhouse.

Woodhouse directed a production of that play in Denver; now Herbert Siguenza, a charter member of the troupe Culture Clash — which co-created “American Night” — has been advising Woodhouse and the “Tortilla Curtain” creative team. (Siguenza also portrayed Cándido in an earlier workshop of “Tortilla.”)

But the new play is also of a piece with the Rep’s long history of producing works that speak to border issues, chiefly through its Calafia Initiative, which has birthed about two dozen works since 1995.

For Woodhouse, a key question behind “Tortilla Curtain” is one of privilege versus obligation.

“We have a big, prosperous, churning country — the richest in the world,” as he puts it. “Who has the right to share in that? And who has the right to say who can share in that?”

As the decades-long immigration debate has demonstrated, those are complicated and divisive issues.

“But if there’s no controversy,” Woodhouse says, “we’re not asking the right questions about how to make our country a better place to live.”

Five actresses singing on stage together

Students Star in San Jose Rep’s “Daring Fusion of Morality, Sexuality and Rock & Roll”

Five actresses singing on stage together

SJSU theater students Kristen Majetich (on her knees, far left) and Ernestine Balisi (far right) appear with Broadway professionals in the San Jose Rep's "Spring Awakening."

By Pat Lopes Harris, Media Relations Director

Walk by the San Jose Repertory Theater (the bright blue building between campus and light rail) and you might see the names of SJSU theater students flash across the marquee.

That’s because amateur actors Ernestine Balisi, Kristen Majetich, and Manuel Rodriguez-Ruiz are starring in the Rep’s “Spring Awakening.”

“It’s been remarkable sharing my passion with the staff and artists at SJ Rep. Because of this collaboration, not only are there acting opportunities, but also other internships which gives every person an opportunity to create amazing theatre,” Majetich said.

The students are appearing on stage with professionals thanks to new, professionally sanctioned internship program.

“Our students are doing a terrific job and no one can tell them from the Broadway cast members,” said theater Professor Ethel Walker.

Set in 19th century Germany, “Spring Awakening” is “a powerful celebration of youth and rebellion in a daring fusion of morality, sexuality and rock & roll,” according to the Rep.

The internship program may do more than open doors for theater students. It is also an invitation to all Spartan to see the show.

“Hundreds of students stroll past the Rep every day and we are always looking for new ways to get them to step inside,” Artistic Director Rick Lombardo told the San Jose Mercury News.

“Both the SJSU theatre program and San Jose Rep are thrilled by the results of this partnership and its many benefits for our students and our organizations,” said theater Professor David Kahn.

“We believe our professional/academic linkage will lead to even more benefits down the road as we build on the success of the student internships with further collaborative enterprises and the development of external funding sources.”

“Spring Awakening” continues through September 25. Read a review. Purchase tickets.