Since 2002, MacDowell Downtown has provided a platform for MacDowell Fellows to share their work with the community. On each first Friday of the month (March through November), artists from across the U.S. and around the world share original live music, film, readings, performance art, or panel discussions. Free to all, doors open at 7 p.m. and the program begins at 7:30. Refreshments are served. Sign up for our mailing list from the homepage to get advance notice of each month’s program and spread the word!
Actor, Playwright, and Filmmaker Richard Montoya
Actor, playwright, and filmmaker Richard Montoya performed excerpts of his plays, showed clips of recent films, and illuminated the influence of Mexican-American music on rock and roll in a free event at The Monadnock Center for History and Culture in November. He was in town for his first MacDowell Colony residency and eager to share his process and work in a public forum.
“My mother asked me the other day, ‘why do you deserve this [residency]’?” he said, explaining that she was taken aback that such a “privilege and opportunity” should be afforded her son. “So I think I’ll work in the garden and the kitchen as well,” he joked.
The award-winning playwright presented scenes from the recently published American Night: The Ballad of Juan José with writer Eric Slater and printmaker Jeremy Dean reading parts. He also showed a clip from Water & Power, his directorial debut that has recently toured the festival circuit. The film is an adaptation of his play, which won the Los Angeles Drama Critics’ Circle Play of the Year award in 2007.
As co-founder of the edgy comedy performance trio known as Culture Clash, Montoya has performed at Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., The Public Theater in New York, Yale Rep, Chicago’s Goodman Theatre, and Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles, among others, but he has never written a musical.
“I’ve done the play stuff, sketch comedy, improv, but that Broadway musical book is an elusive one,” he said, explaining he’ll focus on writing the musical while at The MacDowell Colony. He intends to shine a light on the influence the roots music of East Los Angeles had on rock and roll. East L.A. was and is a Mexican-American enclave and in the 1950s, its garages and basements boomed with a hybrid sound recognizable today.
“Mexican-Americans have played a big part in creating this music,” he said. “And we have to prosecute that case musically. That’s what I want to do – show the intersection where mariachi music met the Beach Boys and rock smelled of tequila and leaned toward rhythm and blues, but rock it was!”
The musical will also make clear the connections “to all the things going on around these kids, like the civil rights movement, and even world events… the kids in East L.A. were listening to the same things as other American kids.” Montoya added that it follows a narrative surrounding the day when rock legends Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson died in a plane crash on February 3, 1959.