Su Teatro Takes a Bow Celebrating 50 Years

The non-profit arts complex Su Teatro Cultural & Performing Arts Center recently celebrated a major milestone – half a century in the industry. To commemorate such a monumental occasion, they decided to take a look back at how far they’ve come by throwing an anniversary party last month at the Colorado History Museum. Guests were allowed to explore the exhibit beforehand, complete with an evening of music, dancing and food as well as musical performances and acknowledging everyone who made it possible to get this far.

Tanya Mote, left, taking photos of attendees and patrons as they mingle and socialize with one another.

An included program detailed the history of Su Teatro, from its humble beginnings as more of a nomadic traveling troupe to the trials and tribulations that came when they were struggling financially, combined with other problems around running a non-profit Chicano-run theatre. Founded in 1972, Su Teatro is the product of the Chicano Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and 70s, originally starting as a theater troupe of students from CU Denver.

Initially focusing on short plays and skits focusing on supporting civil rights movements and social activism, as time went on the productions began to focus more on the identity and history of Chicano culture shared by the population of Chicanos, Mexicans and Latinos not just in the Denver area, but across the nation. By 1989, they settled into Northeast Denver after purchasing the abandoned Elyria School for a down payment of $5000 and went from being a nomadic theatre troupe to an established organization that helped them flourish.

In spite of the hardships and every obstacle that seemed like the world was out to get them, Su Teatro managed to persevere and fight to tell the stories it wanted to. Today, Su Teatro is thriving – in 2010, they took ownership of the Denver Civic Theatre and picked away at the mortgage until finally paying it off in January of this year, to which they celebrated by holding a ceremonial mortgage burning. The original documents were left intact, but there was still a cathartic release getting to burn a representation of them. They also plan on unveiling an extended campus in the future, according to the aforementioned included program.

One of the major factors of success for Su Teatro is the tight community surrounding it. As soon as the doors opened to the event, several people were greeting each other with hugs and handshakes, complimenting their outfits and talking about how excited they were. Tanya Mote, the Associate Director at Su Teatro and who has been involved with them since 1997, went around taking photos and welcoming everyone as they came in.

An attendee of the 50th Anniversary party reads through the provided program before the actual event.

“The idea was to have something celebratory, where it wasn’t about talking heads or discussing the work, that it was just about reveling what the organization had accomplished,” Mote said when asked what the event was about. “There are a lot of people who have been part of the company for 15 years or 20 years and we wanted to acknowledge those people.”

Mote also mentioned that one of the key players in setting up the event was Micaela “Mica” Garcia de Benavidez, Su Teatro’s Managing Director and daughter of Executive Director Tony Garcia. Born into the theatre, the community is everything to her, and more than anyone she wanted to acknowledge the people behind it.

“The only reason we’ve made it as far as we have is because of the community surrounding Su Teatro. We had planned a lot of favorite shows and a lot of our original productions, but we never really had a plan to just step back and celebrate, so that’s what I wanted to do.” Mica mentioned.

Mica also pointed out that Su Teatro is now Denver’s oldest theater company overall as well, adding another notch on the significance surrounding a cultural highlight of the city.

Managing Director Mica Garcia de Benavidez, left, and Board Chair Director Victor Vialpando Nunez, right, welcome everyone in attendance and kick off the event.

The 50th Anniversary extends out well into the summer as well, with performances of their most successful show La Carpa Aztlan PresentsI Don’t Speak English Only” running from June 8 to the 25th, a music festival and a final event in August at La Alma park which serves as the “culmination of the celebration”. While their work never seems to end, taking a moment to revel in their success speaks volumes of their humility and hard work to tell their unique stories to anyone willing to listen over the last 50 years, and potentially the next 50 as well.