Thirteen years ago, Sara Guerrero began a theater company so she could see her plays staged. She’s still waiting.
It’s not as if Guerrero, the artistic director of Breath of Fire Latina Theater Ensemble, feels her plays are unworthy. It’s that she has learned to embrace something essential about the familial nature of a theater company: Someone has to be the mother.
“I absolutely adore my son, but I wouldn’t say I have that mother ‘personality,'” admits the Santa Ana native. “But when it comes to theater, I have a nurturing energy. Theater is my family. I’m really passionate about it; it’s why I get up in the morning. I love my child and my partner, but they know that if I didn’t have this in my life, it would be hard to be.”
Guerrero’s theatrical vision isn’t just a collaboration of artists; it’s about collaborating with the community. That’s why, after taking a break a couple of years ago, Breath of Fire (which isn’t the only theater endeavor Guerrero is involved in—trust us) revisited its purpose last year and decided to shift from mounting full productions to focusing on community-theater writing workshops.
“We’d been production-based before, but since coming back, it’s been more about making theater more accessible to the community,” she says. “And that’s given us the opportunity to re-imagine what theater is to a community, about going deeper and sharing skills and to show them what it means to be a storyteller.”
Guerrero, who graduated from Century High School with no real plan, wrote her first play in the fifth grade. But as a foreign-exchange student in South America, she heard Federico García Lorca’s plays presented in Spanish, and a fire was ignited. She worked as a stagehand and actress at Rancho Santiago (now Santa Ana) College before attending Cal Arts, graduating in 1999. But while she did the auditioning thing, she found herself drawn to community-based nonprofits, such as Plaza de la Raza, a Latino cultural center in Lincoln Heights.
She moved back to Santa Ana and eventually hooked up with Pablo Rivera’s Teatro Indigena, an OC-based, by-the-bootstraps Chicano theater troupe, one of only a handful of Latino companies in the county’s history. That company didn’t last, so Guerrero and several of the people she’d worked with over the years decided to launch Breath of Fire in November 2003. They began working on a compilation of stories told by the county’s Latino community that coalesced into The Mexican OC, first produced in 2006 (and directed by Guerrero). Since then, the troupe has produced about 25 full productions and readings, before taking a slight break in 2012, resurfacing last year with its new, reinvigorated purpose.
“I don’t know if we have filled a void [for Latino theater in OC], but we have offered our community access,” she says. “Theater is part of our community in other performances, like dance or music, but for the majority, theater is not a regular part of their lives. And even when we had our own space, we did the work, and then the show ended, but no one really walked out wanting to do it. So the challenge was how to get people really interested, to get theater to thrive. That’s what we’re trying to do now. Instead of trying to get the community to come to the theater, we’re bringing theater to the community.”