The Bilingual Foundation of the Arts will say goodbye June 23 to the old Los Angeles city jail in Lincoln Heights, the nonprofit theatre group’s home for the last 38 years.
The city’s fire department has deemed the facility unsafe but BFA has been granted a temporary reprieve to close down its theater in grand style with the “IV Edition of the International Theatre Festival.” The group’s managing director, Lina Montalvo promises it will be “the most special event of the season.”
The city is looking at options to rehabilitate the facility, which served as jail until 1965 when it was decided it was no longer cost effective to operate as a jail facility. After standing abandoned for many years, except when used for filming. In the late 1970s, the city turned some of the space over to house a now-gone boxing gym, and in 1979 to BFA, a Latino theatre group dedicated to bilingual, English and Spanish, stage productions.
Mexican-American actress Carmen Zapata and Cuban-born actress, playwright and director, Margarita Galban founded BFA in 1973. During its nearly four decades of operation, BFA has presented hundreds of plays and trained countless Latino actors, giving many of them their start in the business.
On its website, BFA states that its “Spanish-language productions instill cultural pride in its Spanish-speaking audiences, and serves as an introduction to the rich and eloquent history of the diverse Hispanic culture to English-speaking audiences.”
Montalvo told EGP that the group has yet to find a new permanent home but in the meantime plans to continue performing at other local venues.
“The city wants to close the building due to its [deteriorated] condition,” Montalvo told EGP. “The city of Los Angeles has said they will help us find a new venue, but this is a process that takes time,” she added.
Montalvo explained that BFA needs a place where it can house their extensive collection of theater sets and very large wardrobe of classic costumes and beautiful garments, which Montalvo said must be carefully stored to keep them from being ruined.
For now, the focus in on the IV Edition of the International Theatre Festival, which Montalvo said promises to be a very special event. is special, The theater director that it was no easy task to pull off, given the concerns of over the facility’s precarious condition.
In order to stage the event, one last show in the Carmen Zapata Theatre, Montalvo told EGP that the city required they have fire personnel on site. “The city at first said we had to pay for this service, but later decided they could cover the cost,” she said, explaining it would have been expensive.
Festival performances are already underway and run through the 23rd of this month. Seven local and international theater companies will perform in the show which Montalvo said is intended to expose the audience to the diversity of Latino talent.
Performances taking place this weekend include: “Tango Argentino,” a story about the sensuality of Argentinean tango; “Adult Supervision Required,” a show based in the work of Frank Wedekind; “Luz Divina Santera Espiritista de 1 a 5,” tells the story of a “Santera” and her credulous clients and “Espiritú Burlón,” the festival’s comedic highlight.
Montalvo says that since learning they would have to relocate, BFA has found some great allies. “We have received help from [Councilman] Gil Cedillo and the Department of Cultural Affairs,” she said.
The 99-seat Carmen Zapata Theatre, produced “four main stage plays each year,” some of which were also performed at the Los Angeles Theater Center, the Ford Amphitheatre or Ricardo Montalban Theatre “in order to develop the theater’s audience” and to collaborate with other companies, Montalvo said. It is hoped the alliances will help the company to continue and to grow, she said.
BFA has other shows planned for 2014, including the fall performance of “The Life and Times of Augustin Lara” (El Flaco de Oro), which will take place at the Los Angeles Theatre Center (LATC) the weekend of November, 14, 15 and 16, Montalvo said.