Christmas Carol, Y Que?
East Salinas street theater takes on Dickens.
Thursday, December 16, 1999
If you blink quickly, you might miss a unique production of Charles Dickens'' A Christmas Carol. Although A Christmas Carol is pretty much standard holiday fare throughout the English-speaking world, there''s nothing standard about the Christmas Carol, Y Que?, opening tonight at the Firehouse Recreation Center in Salinas. First, it''s performed in Spanish and English--"Spanglish," says director Frank Sanchez--by about a dozen young people from Sanchez''s East Salinas neighborhood. And instead of an elderly 19th-century British gentleman named Scrooge, the story revolves around a young East Salinas boy seeking revenge for his friend, gunned down in gang violence, who''s visited one night by three ghosts that show him his past, present and future and try to banish vengeance from his heart.
The message is the same--good will towards all--but the medium is...different. "The story is a parody of Dickens," explains Sanchez, 29, a talented actor/director who runs city-sponsored theater projects for East Salinas youth, while performing with his own hip-hop, agit-prop spoken work troupe, Baktun-12 (see article in the 11/5/98 Weekly.) The script was written by fellow Baktun-12 performer and playwright Luis Juarez, 26, who met Sanchez in 1987 when both were students at Alisal Center for the Arts, and who studied Chicano theater with him under Luis Valdez at El Teatro Campesino.
Juarez wrote a second holiday parody-play, Miracle on Market Street, with a similar East Salinas, young-kid-makes-good theme. They''ve been alternating the productions every year for the past nine Christmas seasons. Until this year, they put them on in Sanchez''s garage. The entire neighborhood was always invited, and folks would crowd into the backyard, elbowing forward for room, chomping on Mexican Christmas sweet bread and sipping hot chocolate.
This year, for the first time, they have an actual, indoor stage, of sorts, at the Firehouse. "The city has given us the space, and staffing, to help us make it more open to more people," says Ralph Garcia, another Baktun-12er who is producing this year''s Christmas Carol. "There isn''t much theater going on here in Salinas. There are a number of theater companies, but they are not accessible to the community. We offer an alternative to mainstream theater. We interpret [traditional] theater, we put a twist on it. And our events are always free of charge."
Shoestring operation? Until this year, Sanchez says, they put on their plays "from our own pockets." This year, the city gave them a couple hundred dollars, with another couple hundred from private donors. Home Depot gave them wood for their stage.
After their public shows tonight and tomorrow, A Christmas Carol Y Que? will travel to half a dozen Salinas schools and the youth detention center. Some years, they take it to Juvenile Hall, "to perform for the kids who are locked up," Garcia says. "The kids are really responsive."
"We have very little money, but a lot of heart," Sanchez adds
A Christmas Carol, Y Que? is performed for free tonight and Friday at 7pm at the Firehouse Recreation Center, 1330 E. Alisal St., Salinas. Baktun-12 will gratefully accept donations to its nonprofit organization, to help with the group''s travel expenses and community theater workshops. Baktun-12 Productions, 315 Soledad St., Apt. 4, Salinas, CA 93906, or call Frank Sanchez at 758-8445.