In July 2023, Center Theatre Group celebrated a significant milestone—the tenth anniversary of The Shop program. This program offers residents of Boyle Heights a valuable opportunity to engage with the art of theatre. Through a range of activities, including costume displays, community sewing circles, creative writing circles, and play readings, both community members and artists share and explore their own stories. This encourages Angelenos to express their creativity, build community, and learn more about theatre. These free programs at The Shop support Center Theatre Group's belief in the transformative power of theatre as a cultural force that can positively impact the lives of individuals and society at large.
The core of The Shop's mission involves partnering with local artists, including playwright Anthony Aguilar. As a playwright, Anthony is a passionate advocate for aspiring writers. His advice resonates with his journey, "Share your work. And don't be afraid to tell others that you are a writer. Find a community that can give you the support you need to develop your craft. Whether it comes from classes, writing groups, or a circle of friends, find the people who believe in you. Once you do, you will grow even more as a writer."
Anthony's plays serve as a power vehicle for exploring various topics ranging from immigration to communication. Growing up in a family of Mexican immigrants, he saw a hardworking and loving family that brought joy to his world. However, he also saw how politicians often scapegoated Latin American immigrants, unfairly portraying them as a major societal problem. As a playwright, Anthony is committed to rewriting this narrative. He casts immigrants as the heroes of their own stories, a perspective he believes is long overdue. His collection of plays features a Mexican immigrant factory worker turned superhero named El Verde, who Anthony says "fights for truth, justice, and the Mexican-American way!" Through this character, Anthony challenges preconceived narratives and showcases the complexity and joy within the Mexican-American community. He shares, "With my stories, I can show an audience how the Mexican immigrant community can be filled with characters that are not a burden to society, but instead ones that are complex and that can live in pure joy."
Currently, Anthony is adapting his superhero play El Verde into a comic book. Along with his collaborators, Alejandra Cisneros and Luke Lizalde, they have created a new adventure titled El Verde v Doctor Pilar. In this storyline, a new supervillain, Doctor Pilar, wreaks havoc in El Verde's town of Pueblo Heights. Doctor Pilar despises quinceañeras, and she has genetically engineered caterpillars to chew up all of the nonbiodegradable decorations and party favors, which means everything! A video adaptation is available on their El Verde Show YouTube page.
With support from Center Theatre Group, Anthony Aguilar, along with Alejandra Cisneros, have seen their play The Exoneration of El Maestro come to life. This production has been performed in Boyle Heights at the Benjamin Franklin Library, Malabar Library, and Robert Louis Stevenson libraries, bringing this impactful narrative to the heart of the community.
The Exoneration of El Maestro, in collaboration with Center Theatre Group, will be performed at the Los Angeles Libros Festival, a free bilingual book festival for the whole family celebrating stories and music from Latin America and the United States. L.A. Libros Fest will be streamed live on YouTube on Friday, September 29, from 9 a.m. to 12 noon. The Festival will be in-person at Central Library in Downtown Los Angeles on Saturday, September 30, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.