3 Decades Making Theatre and “Culture Clash”

3 Decades Making Theatre and “Culture Clash”

3 Decades Making Theatre and “Culture Clash”
Ric Salinas, Herbert Siguenza, and Richard Montoya from Culture Clash. Photo: Eric Schwabel

Audiences in the Pacific Northwest have enjoyed Milagro’s provocative and irreverent work for over three decades, but for national audiences, another group has been a source and beacon of Latino-based social critique for almost as long: Culture Clash. As we prepare to open a play written by one of its members, we take a look at this influential troupe.

American Night: The Ballad of Juan José was written by Richard Montoya as a commission by Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and the madcap script is emblematic of their hilarious and unapologetic skewering of America. As its name implies, Culture Clash has never been about pleasantry or politeness, focusing instead on the uncomfortable edges where identity and prejudice rub raw, creating work that bites society on the butt to make it stand up and take notice. Although by all critical accounts they have more finesse and recognition, they have not strayed far from their beginnings three decades ago. Their biting comedy even made it to the small screen with a self-titled sketch comedy show that ran for 30 episodes.

Just like Milagro’s founder and Executive Director Jose Gonzalez jokes that he named the company because it was a miracle it existed, the members of Culture Clash had little reason to suspect the longevity and success of their troupe when they first came together on a fateful 5 de Mayo in Los Angeles. The original 6 members since narrowed down to three: Montoya, Ric Salinas and Herbert Siguenza. Although historically and stylistically linked to the radicalized agitprop spirit of Chicano theatre, the group caught the attention and support of communities throughout the country, earning commissions from San Diego to Boston. In 2010, American Night premiered as part of OSF’s American Revolutions Cycle.

Montoya and company have been frequently in the news as of late, and featured on NPR as they present their latest work in Boston, Muse and Morros. Created from personal interviews and presented unflinching portraits of everything from a transgender activist to a slur-slinging gang-banger, Culture Clash’s latest offering continues their legacy of examining “post-colonial trauma”, challenging us all to laugh and think at the mirror they hold up. With the upcoming production of American Night, Milagro extends the invitation to all of Portland.

Make sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter to stay on top of all the news and events coming up around American Night: the Ballad of Juan José, and join us for this sharp-eyed and sharp-witted look at American history.