Today we’d like to introduce you to Silvia Gonzalez Scherer (AKA Silvia Gonzalez S.). Silvia, we appreciate you taking the time to share your story with us today. Where does your story begin? I am the first daughter of Mexican immigrants. I look back and see how poor we were but that is not vivid in my mind. What is vivid is my entering a public school having a language the school didn’t understand. A school official came to my house and told my parents not to speak Spanish to me or let me speak Spanish. What happened was, we did not communicate very much. As well, my parents were always fighting, and I believe now it had to do with finances. I became very insecure at home where I felt rejection from parents not communicating with me and a school silencing me. At school, kids made fun of me when instead of a sandwich for lunch I brought a chorizo burrito. My English improved. I began to like school. I particularly enjoyed the summer school playground program. The coaches had some theater experience for the kids. I liked that. I even wrote my own version of Cinderella and we performed it. At some point in my schooling, a teacher saw the gusto I had for the arts and sent me home with a brochure. My parents looked at the costs and said it was not going to happen. Living in the San Fernando Valley, I was close to production studios, so it was natural that I found a notice of a company seeking kids to be in educational films. I wanted to audition and begged to go. My dad was a backyard mechanic on weekends and worked in the assembly line at General Motors during the week. It was Saturday and he said he would take me after he was finished working on a car. I waited and waited. The audition was over, and it was too late to go. I remember my heart aching from not going. In junior high I signed up for a drama class. I found it incredible that the classroom had a stage. As the semester went on, I was never chosen to go on that stage. Then, I realized that I was too brown to be Lady McBeth. I felt rejected. In high school, I wanted to be in plays and asked about it, but the drama teacher stopped doing shows because she was worried about being at school in the evenings in our barrio/ghetto neighborhood. School plays were canceled permanently. I asked if I could write a script for a school Christmas show assembly. They said I could. I wrote about what I observed at Christmas time. I had a scene where a police officer arrested a father for shoplifting a teddy bear. I was pulled aside by the vice principal and told never to write again. I became student body president in my senior year and one perk was to go on tv and be on a student program about certain subjects.
As I entered the tv studio in Hollywood, I was told to step aside. They did makeup on the other girls and I noticed I was being ignored. I asked if I was going to get makeup, too. The makeup artist reluctantly put me in the chair and then started telling me how ugly I was and just powdered me. I felt humiliated and rejected. In college, I saw there was a student radio program. I said I wanted to be part of it. The students there did not welcome me, and I sat around doing nothing for long periods of time. So, I stopped going. I got into MECHA, a Latino college organization, and we did a skit in the middle of the school. I was the bell tower representing the university. After we did the skit, the MECHA students painted the three letters of the school on the hill red, green, and white. I noticed no more skits after that by MECHA. I transferred colleges and got the urge to write poetry and I thought I’d like to write a novel. I told the university professor my goal and she immediately said that I was not a writer. She said if I insisted, I needed to take a lot more English lit classes. I did that thinking that if I was that bad, how can I be a teacher? I was leaning on that as a career goal. Later, while living in Yuma, Arizona, I took a night class for radio at the community college. The professor at the community college was excited by my work and voice and told the department head about me. The department head wanted to test me. In the test session, he didn’t have the dials correct on the soundboard and made me shout into the microphone. He then gave me a look that I was terrible. The professor that recommended me was disappointed. A few months later, I walked past a community theater. I decided I would call and see about it. I was cast in four consecutive shows. I had awesome reviews of my acting. One actress with a theater degree remarked that the newspaper reviewer was ‘in love’ with me and that was the reason I had good reviews. Then there was other drama, and I made the decision that being with Prima Donnas was not fun and decided to write plays. My first submitted play became a winner of a national contest and I went to Seattle. I had embarked in a new career as a playwright! Then a phone call to be part of a New York playwright residency. That was seven years of pure joy.
In 2011 a move to Hanford, California was awesome because I was three hours from where I grew up and from family members. I continued to write. Not long after, I was asked by a prestigious university, impressed with my playwriting and my subject matter of Latino experience, to get a master’s in playwriting with their university. That would be a great boost to my career and allow me to teach at a university. Then I looked around and saw children needing a little extra. I couldn’t help but see myself in them. That was when I decided that I would be more driven to start a multicultural theater company in Hanford. I set out to do that with my daughter’s assistance. We are called Hanford Multicultural Theater Company. We opened our doors officially February 1, 2017 offering free acting classes to anyone. Our youngest is four years old, and our oldest is 86. We have a volunteer staff, and several have learning disabilities. We have ‘mixed’ people that come through our doors who find family with us. We are doing our best to find funds to do shows that are relevant to our community.
My early life made me desire to give experiences to the local youth and those who didn’t get a chance to try it. With the help of my daughter, Hanford Multicultural Theater began in this community.
Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way. Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
Without struggles there is no learning. What I learned after the third year birthday of the company was to be careful of who I trusted. I trusted the wrong people with the company. I thought I was empowering individuals who needed a chance to succeed. The company I co-founded with my daughter I too willingly shared the wealth of its reputation. I soon found myself acquiring assistance from an attorney to trademark my intellectual property. I should have been more selective of the people I surrounded myself with. It was a painful event that the people I was so good to were desiring to take everything I invested with my funds, heart and soul. It took a lot of time to get over the betrayal.
Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your work?
I am a proud alumnus of three playwright residencies: New Dramatists, Chicago Dramatists, and INTAR Playwright Lab in New York City under the tutelage of Maria Irene Fornes. I am a long-time member of the Dramatists Guild and a newer member of the Alliance of Los Angeles Playwrights (ALAP). I co-founder and am executive artistic director of Hanford Multicultural Theater Company, creator of Udderly Improv, and director of the citywide Hanford Dia de Los Muertos community event. During the week I teach acting, improv, and playwriting. I also write a column for the local paper and keep active the HMTC blog. I enjoy making puppets and creating puppet shows for the theater.
I created a series stage production called Unusual Theater which features MACHO AND BIG MOUTH.
My play PEDRO THE PUPPETEER was to be presented at the Hollywood Fringe 2020, and 2021 but pandemic issues caused it to be turned into a film instead.
My newest play-in-progress The MUSSEL SLOUGH TRAGEDY – A CALIFORNIA TRAGEDY will be presented as a city involved project in 2022 and was commissioned by the Kings County Historical Society.
BOXCAR / EL VAGON was recently produced by TeleTulsa in November 2021 and will be produced in 2022 by Teatro Latino de San Francisco. PaperWing Theater also produced this play that has the distinction of being part of Teatro Vision ‘Codices’ program. BOXCAR/EL VAGON was a National Winner of METLIFE’s “VOCES” at Repertorio Español (NYC) and the play is available for streaming.
Spindrift Theater in San Francisco produced BOXCAR/EL VAGON and members remounted the play and named their new theater El Vagon Theater.
With the pandemic, I ventured into film work. Two projects were created, DON’T JUST LOOK and CHOLA PODCAST. Her next film project is HANFORD PRIVATE DETECTIVE.
ALICIA IN WONDER TIERRA was presented by CAL STATE UNIVERSITY San Bernardino which the director Johanna Smith delivered a utopia of puppets to complement this Latina Alice in Wonderland story.
LOS MATADORES was a finalist of the National Hispanic Theatre Playwriting Award sponsored by Arizona Theater Company.
Teatro Latino San Francisco produced THE MIGRANT FARMWORKER’S SON and AN EVENING WITH JOAQUIN MURRIETA: MY QUEST FOR JUSTICE and plans on remounting El Vagon/Boxcar. JOAQUIN was also was a finalist for the Blue Ink Playwright Award with American Blues Theater in Chicago.
Arizona State University also produced ALICIA on their main stage with director Pamela Sterling.
ALICIA IN WONDER TIERRA was also produced by Berkeley Rep and taken on a school-wide tour.
Other productions of ALICIA IN WONDER TIERRA (Or I Can’t Eat Goat Head) include: The Coterie, Cara Mia Theatre Company with The Dallas Children’s Theater, Utah State Theater, Texas’ Globe Theater, Teatro Humanidad in Austin, Texas, and a number of community theaters and high schools across the country. It was also included in South Coast Hispanic Playwright Festival. ALICIA IN WONDER TIERRA was a Kennedy Center New Voices/New Vision participant and a Lila Wallace/Reader’s Digest New Play Award winner.
Some of my work is published by Dramatic Publishing. Books with Inclusions include BOXCAR/EL VAGON in “Foundations of Language & Literature: For Honors and Pre-AP English Courses, 1/e” written by Golden and published by Macmillan 2018.
Other books include Best Plays by the Graduating Class 2001: New Dramatists, Smith & Kraus, 2001; Drama for Reading and Performance, Perfection Learning Publishers, 2000; Monologues and Short Plays for Young Adults, by Kent Brown, 1999; Multicultural Theater 2: New Hispanic, Asian, and African-American Plays for Young Audiences, Meriwether Publishing, 1998; Contemporary Minority Women Playwrights by Suzanne Bennett Ph.D. and Jane T. Peterson, Ph.D. Greenwood Press 1996; Multicultural Scenes and Monologues from the Contemporary Theater, by Dr. Roger Ellis Meriwether Publishing Company 1996; Act Like a Man by Bob Vorlicky, University of Michigan Press 1995, and several poetry presses. I am a proud alumnus of New Dramatists and Chicago Dramatists.
Who else deserves credit in your story? The success of my business is due to my daughter. She inspired me to begin a theater company. Maria Irene Fornes taught me to use my soul to write plays. The smiles of children inspired me to forever teach them whenever given an opportunity (And to make opportunities to teach children.) Contact Info:
Youtube: HMTC Hanford Multicultural Theater Company