Founded in 2000, Casa 0101 Theater has been bringing the arts to Angelenos who ordinarily might not have access to them. Located in the predominantly Latino community of Boyle Heights, Casa 0101 is dedicated to providing vital arts, cultural, and educational programs in theater, filmmaking, art, and dance to the future storytellers of Los Angeles.
One of the best things about Casa is that it offers so many classes at a very low cost. Beginners and those more advanced can hone their crafts in writing, acting, and now even directing and producing. I personally have benefited from Casa's writing programs and find the education they provide extremely valuable. I came to L.A. wanting to be a screenwriter (but without enough money to get a Masters degree at UCLA), took a screenwriting class at Casa (also read a lot of screenwriting books), and I am slowly but surely making screenwriting my career. So I know their mission is indeed succeeding.
California's economic crisis is now hitting the arts in Los Angeles. The city's Budget and Finance Committee has recently put forward a motion to eliminate the Department of Cultural Affairs' dedicated source of revenue. Being that Casa is a non-profit organization, and ticket prices and class prices are so affordable, I wanted to sit down with Josefina Lopez, artistic director and founder, to ask her how the theater has been affected in these hard economic times.
"We've hardly ever gotten grants, so we never have a budget," said Josefina. She and her husband Emmanuel Deleague (Development Director) personally put their own finances into the theater when grants and box office don't cover the costs, proving that they're in it for a much bigger cause than financial gain.
Casa has been working on an expansion—a space that will be about four times bigger than the current Casita. And during this economic hardship, Josefina has noticed that it's harder to get grants for this project. As far as box office, she doesn't believe theirs has been affected by the economic crises—she says, "box office always depends on the show." Perhaps, people do need more of an escape from their own reality in these times. That might draw them to the theater more often now than when times are financially better.
Lopez stated that their lack of grant funding isn't due to the fact that they don't get approved, rather that applying for grants is time consuming. "They make you jump through hoops. It's a full-time job to beg." She says, having a grant-writer on board the Casa team would be ideal, but most grant writers only want to work for organizations that are very likely to get approved for grants—those organizations are the big wigs in the arts, the names people recognize.
I asked Josefina what keeps her doing it when it gets financially difficult. "It's the right thing to do," she said. "When Latinos account for 30 percent of the population nationwide and 47 percent of Los Angeles, and yet there is no equity in politics and film...this blatant injustice isn't right. 80 percent of plays produced at all theaters are written by men, and they're perceived to be better simply due to that fact." She says, "we're not there yet," and that is what keeps her creating these opportunities for Latino storytellers.
Josefina believes that the great thing about all of the job loss and cut-backs of our time is that people now have more time to explore their creative selves. "People are getting creative with less. The arts are a form of healing and dealing with the pain. They don't have to shoot up people at the post office. And really, the thing is that people are getting down to the essence of what is important."
Lopez hopes that the current economic situation is going to make the arts more accessible. "Most theaters charge too much. When you go to the bigger theaters, or the Westside theaters you see a bunch of senior patrons in the audience. Making tickets more affordable will make shows more accessible, not just to senior citizens."
Regarding a change in what artists are creating these days, Josefina says that in Los Angeles, a lot of theater gets produced with the hopes of making the crossover to film. She's hoping this climate will get people doing more theater for the sake of theater, not the big screen.
Knowing that Josefina is very in tune with her senses, I asked her what she believed about the Mayan 2012 prediction and all of the hype it is receiving. I'd done a little research on it and found that the Mayans didn't predict the end of the world, but a great change in humanity's existence. I wanted to know if Josefina believed this to be true, and if so, how she felt artists would play a role in this change, in particular, Latino artists. "I've gone through spiritual training and what I've learned about the 2012 prediction is that it is the lifting of the veil of consciousness. People are going to be much more conscious and aware. It's going to be an end of darkness and ignorance. Humanity will awaken to a lot of abilities that are now hidden, that might have been denied in the past."
Josefina believes in a sacred feminine energy, and she believes many Latinas are in tune with this, and more so will be closer to 2012. She believes this energy will transform the way life is now operating. "People are going to learn that ego and capitalism are not the way. Human identity doesn't supersede our highest consciousness. A lot of healers are artists, healing through their art. 2012 is not going to be the end of the world, but a new awakening." She believes Chicanos, in particular, have always been very aware of Mother Earth, and she believes this belief is going to expand to everyone else. "It will be embraced more and others will acknowledge the sacred feminine energy."
This energy was certainly felt in one of Josefina's productions she is most proud of, 8 Ways to Say I Love My Life and Mean it! The play is a collection of monologues about Latinas. "Everyone was working towards one goal. We wanted publicity for the book the play is based on. It was so easy to produce because all these other women were working with me." This Casa production won an Imagen award in 2009, which brought more recognition to Casa 0101.
Another one of Josefina's proudest productions was, Confessions of Women from Boyle Heights, which she wrote, directed, and acted in. This production got a great review in the LA Times and had full houses. It was a celebratory time for Lopez, who definitely felt the sacred feminine working then.
As far as a specificity in what shows get selected to go up on the Casa stage, Josefina says that she chooses Latino-themed plays or plays that are relevant to the Latino community. She favors Latino writers, especially women, but also is open to plays written by non-Latinos with the right approach—"ones that don't portray Latinos as victims." And she chooses plays that might not otherwise get produced in other venues. "If it can be done somewhere else, I don't need to do it. I don't have to produce Shakespeare."
Having known Josefina for many years now, I know that she is all about empowering women and breaking stereotypes about Latina women. She wants that stereotype to come out of the kitchen and write a play, run for governor... Hey, she can make the best rice and beans también, so long as she's living her purpose in this world—even in an economic crisis. Josefina Lopez and all of the team at Casa 0101 are making a change in Boyle Heights and reaching far beyond that community's limits. Ask any student artist there, and I'm sure you'll believe this to be true.
Josefina hopes the legacy of Casa will be that it was the first theater in Boyle Heights and that it was a catalyst for an artistic renaissance in that community and the artist's district. I personally believe it is already at the forefront of that renaissance and is proving that even when times are tough, the arts keep going.
Casa 0101 is located at 2009 E. 1st Street, Los Angeles, CA 90033. For info, call (323)263-7684 or email them at email@example.com.