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The ALTA Artist of the Month feature of the Culture Bodega is back after a brief hiatus. And it returns in high style by profiling a force of nature in this country’s Latino theatre scene: Nancy Garcia Loza.

Born in Berwyn, Illinois, Nancy studied at DePaul University with a focus on Spanish & Latin American and Latina/o Studies. She left the private sector after a few years, transitioning to a career in the non-profit arena that focused on Latino Arts & Culture, and Education.  After volunteering at various organizations, Colectivo El Pozo approached García Loza with an opportunity to market Los carralejas in February 2012 and her involvement grew from there. In July 2012, García Loza stepped up as Executive Director of Colectivo El Pozo where she spearheaded the collective’s transition into an emerging theatre organization, reformulated its mission & vision, defined its core values, recruited and formed its initial Board of Directors, and formally founded the company.

During the day, she serves as Senior Operations Manager of Latino Outreach for Junior Achievement of Chicago:

Nancy García Loza
How would your grandma describe you?
I lost both of my grandmas (abuela and tita) the same year that I got involved in Latina/o theater. With that said, we never got to talk about what I was doing in this new campo. But they would have each described me as strong-willed. My tita (mother’s side) might have accused me of neglecting my husband, my abuelita might have kept this “scandalous” new path a secret (she told people I was at an all-girl’s boarding school when I moved out of home to go to DePaul).

But my abuela and tita loved telling me stories and that’s how I know that they’d get it at some level, because I could relate it to how we spent afternoons listening to rancheras in Jalisco while they poured out stories of tiempos de antes and trying to control the narrative that they passed down to the next generation, one that included their voice. They were both really complex women. I don’t come from a family where my abuelas are like a miel and I object to stripping them of their humanness and making saints after death. Both were concerned that I like a trago and sang loudly after more than a few.

When you’re asked the question, “what do you do?” what do you answer? What would you LIKE to answer?
The answer keeps evolving and I love that, but lately, in an effort to dispel notions that this is my hobby or a temporary stint of insanity, I explain that I co-founded a theatre company and help bring Latina/o stories to the stage. Over the next few years, I would like to eventually remove “I have a day job” from my vocabulary (high five to the rest of us dreamers on this one!) and in effect dedicate myself to expanding my theatre company and fulfilling its mission, purposefully contributing to the U.S. Latina/o Theatre movement, and writing. I cannot wait to say: “Colectivo El Pozo is touring in the US and Mexico and bringing a new play about women to stages.” And more down the road, I cannot wait to call home and tell my mother that I helped devise a story about the mujeres from my pueblo, especially the forgotten women. Somehow all of that collective consciousness of mujeres is what defines me shard by shard and I want to honor that and immortalize it in some way, take on the sacred path of story-telling if you will.

My mom actually fields this question more than anyone: relatives call from Mexico and they’re perplexed that I am married and somehow still working, don’t own a home, and don’t have babies. By the time I get around to answering the question directly, someone is asking if I have lots of hobbies or if I’m a saint that works for free. When I first started to take on more projects a couple years ago, my family fought me. I’d say, “I volunteer here or there” and someone would grumble “she ignores her family.” But this was a bump in the road. All in all, my family comes to life when the conversation sits for a spell longer. I have never had a conversation with a relative that doesn’t ultimately transform into “Oye, güera, por qué no cuéntas esta historia, pasó asi…” The Lozas, my maternal side, are tremendous storytellers: all you have to do is slow down and listen and corridos and crónicas just pour out.

What’s one thing most people don’t know about you? Any special talents?
In a diluted fantasy I want to be a cine de oro ranchera singer. I live this out at weddings when there’s mariachi. My cousins love me for it…

What was the first piece of theatre you ever experienced?
I don’t remember what the play was, I believe it was Little Shop of Horrors or some other musical, but I remember being in 2nd or 3rd grade and walking from Graves Elementary, in Chicago’s south suburbs. Sun was beaming and we walked the 10-15 minutes from the school’s hot blacktop to the Candelight Dinner Playhouse on an old stretch of Harlem Avenue with all our childhood senses coming to life as we strolled past Weber Bakery and its sweet smells sticking in the air.

The first impression occurred upon walking in: the theater was pouring over with crimson carpets and gold hues. I thought I walked into something majestic. We were loud and rowdy and then the lights and curtain came up and you could hear a pin drop. I believe that for most of the students that day, most of us 1st generation in the US or African-American, this was our first time experiencing theater.

About a year later I wrote a play for Mother’s Day, ‘hired’ all my childhood friends to be in it, and then fired everyone after a few hours when they couldn’t memorize their lines. It was an epic unraveling which included me tearing down my set of blankets and stacked furniture, kicking everyone out of my house in a mad fury, and telling my mother that her present was ruined by the actors! Looking back, I lost my mind. But that was the luxury of being 8, now I’m 30 and hopefully wiser.

Why do you think you got into the theatre?
When I first sought out becoming involved with Latina/o theatre companies (I’m a late bloomer – two years old in fact) I thought it would be to write. But then the organizer/activist in me took over and this has been very powerful too, a takeover of my being.

Simply put, I got into this to tell stories and have control in making sure that not all/our stories come from the voice/perspective of the status quo – whether that’s Anglo, mainstream, hetero, classist, or male-dominated. In fact, I didn’t read my first Latina/o written novel, story, or play until I was 18 or 19 while at DePaul, which is also where I had my first Latina/o educator. There’s something wrong with that, I’m part of the American narrative too and I don’t want Latina/o youth to wait forever or never to see/read stories from our community and our experience in the US as diaspora and/or Americans.

This is where the deber of storytelling is a form of activism for me, the personal is political as our foremothers would say. If my abuelos were responsible for scripting the narrative of the women in their lives they would leave everything out, they would erect santos and santas were there really were so many deep complexities and conflicts brewing. The same goes if the status quo is in control of our narrative, it gets lost.

What’s coming up for you? Any cool projects you want to tell us about?
We, Colectivo El Pozo, are premiering a new work by Raúl Dorantes, “The Inexplicable Pastrana,” (Director: Joel Valentín-Martínez) which draws inspiration from the life of a 19th century Bearded Lady: Julia Pastrana and her journey from northern Mexico to the streets of St. Petersburg performing with a circus troupe.

“The Inexplicable Pastrana” signals many milestones in Pozo history: a female-focused story, our first bilingual play, a dynamic development process, a stunning artistic team, and a new organizational structure to name a few. I have carefully built an amazing team for this project, the collaboration and contribution of everyone during the script development process has completely evolved from the story that we wanted to tell to the story that ended up being channeled. I have never been so excited about a project with Pozo – it’s a premiere that marks many firsts in our history from starting as a community collective to developing as a theatre company that now blends professional & community participants in its processes.

Check us out at The West Stage at the Raven Theatre Complex in Edgewater from Oct 31st thru Nov 17th (Thurs, Fri, Sat, 8 pm; Sun, 3:30 pm). In late spring we will premiere a 2nd new work that is loosely inspired by the old Latino drag bar La Cueva (Little Village), also a work by Dorantes and directed by Juan Castañeda.