Theatre Ph.D. Dissertations

From la Carpa to the Classroom: The Chicano Theatre Movement and Actor Training in the United States

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Advisor

Jonathan Chambers (Advisor)

Second Advisor

Tim Brackenbury (Other)

Third Advisor

Angela Ahlgren (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Cynthia Baron (Committee Member)


The historical narrative of actor training has thus far been limited to the history of Eurocentric actor training. Put another way, it has been predominantly white. While the history of actor training has been understudied in general, the history of training for actors of color has been almost non-existent. Yet scholars including Alison Hodge and Mark Evans have made direct links between actor training and both the evolution of theatre and the development of personal, artistic, and socio-political worldviews. Since the recorded history of actor training focuses almost exclusively on white practitioners, however, this history privileges the experiences and perspectives of white practitioners over those of color. Rooted in the argument that a history of actor training based so exclusively on whiteness is incomplete and inaccurate, this dissertation explores the history of actor training for Latinx actors, especially those who participated in and came out of the Chicanx Theatre Movement of the 1960s and 1970s, and who went on to engage in other training programs afterwards. Relying primarily on original archival research, I document multifaceted attempts to train Latinx actors in the United States in the mid- to late twentieth century.

In five chapters, I examine the beginnings of Latinx actor training in the United States; the Theatre of the Sphere training system devised by Luis Valdez and the El Teatro Campesino ensemble in the 1960s and 1970s; the various training opportunities offered by TENAZ (Teatro Nacional de Aztlán), a national network of Chicano theatres that operated from the late 1960s into the early 1990s; the efforts of the Old Globe Theatre’s Teatro Meta program in the 1980s; and the short-lived MFA program in Hispanic-American Theatre established by Jorge Huerta at the University of California, San Diego in the late 1980s and early 1990s. In examining these efforts, I argue that theatre artists and practitioners of color have historically engaged in their own training practices when white, mainstream training have failed to include them. In the process, I highlight the overall whiteness and Eurocentrism of historical accounts of actor training in the United States. I suggest that the dominance of white artists and training systems has placed extra burdens on artists, teachers, and actors of color to create more culturally specific approaches that address their specific needs. Ultimately, I argue that such approaches offer key information about how individuals and programs might begin to diversify training programs in ways that are more culturally inclusive. In sum, I argue that these largely undocumented efforts deserve a place in the history of both actor training and theatre in the United States, so that they may inform actor training moving forward.