American Dreamer: The Life and Times of Raúl H. Castro

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American Dreamer: The Life and Times of Raúl H. Castro is a play based on the life of former Arizona Governor and U.S. Ambassador Raúl H. Castro. Playwright and actor James E. Garcia, director Richard Schultz, and actress Kathryn James talk about the play.

Richard Ruelas: Thank you for joining us. "American Dreamer: The Life & Times of Raúl H. Castro" is a play based on the true life story of Raúl H. Castro, who came to the U.S. during the Mexican revolution. He has been a farm worker, boxer, judge, teacher, lawyer, U.S. ambassador to three nations and in the 1970s he served as Arizona's only ever Hispanic governor. Soon, you will be able to get the chance to see the play based on his life. Joining me to talk about this play is Richard Schultz, director of the play. James Garcia, playwright and actor in the play. And Kathryn James, the actress who plays Raul Castro's mother and other roles in the performance. Thank you all for joining us this evening.

Richard Schultz: Thank you.

Richard Ruelas: So much this guy has done in his life. How did you start deciding how do you make so many varied roles into a compact performance?

James Garcia: Well, in some ways it was easy because he sort of made it easy. I met Raúl Castro at one of his birthday parties, and he opened his mouth at the microphone, and he spoke in many ways the way a play should sound. And I was fortunate, even though I conducted a number of interviews with him and met with him several times as I was working on the piece, he had actually dictated more or less his whole life story and had it transcribed by a secretary and that became a memoir that's out now but that was the material I had to work with. It was dialogue that I began with and that made it a lot easier.

Richard Ruelas: He placed things in context where things would matter because again, he has so many varied roles, governor being the one we know the most in Arizona.

James Garcia: Yeah, yeah.

Richard Ruelas: He was an ambassador.

James Garcia: He spoke a lot about his life in the big picture context in terms of, you know, crossing the bored and what it took for him to become governor or U.S. ambassador. He had a lot of stories about his life along the way and the challenges he faced. Now, as a playwright, my job was to take those stories and create scenes. I remind people this is not a documentary. It's a piece of fiction ultimately inspired by a man's true story. He gave me all of the pieces that I needed.

Richard Ruelas: Directing it with again so much time passage, what are the challenges in presenting this?

Richard Schultz: The cast of eight playing upwards of 50 roles, and so they're moving quickly through 70 years of U.S. history, as well as various locations and then different characters, most of them representing the type of obstacles that the governor ran into throughout his journey. They're representing people with very distinct mindsets and attitudes toward race and issues like that, America through the 20th century.

Richard Ruelas: Is it chronological?

Richard Schultz: It is. It goes from right before his birth we learn about his parents. In the early 1910s, all the way through the carter administration.

Richard Ruelas: There's quick maneuvering of sets, a little makeup, powder here and there?

Richard Schultz: We utilized the best theatrical devices to prompt quick changes. We have actors to walk off stage and in two minutes come back as an entirely different character.

Richard Ruelas: How does that work? Getting into the mindset so quickly to switch?

Kathryn James: Mostly through the rehearsal process and making sure that I know not just who I am when I'm walking out there but when I am and where it fits into the arc of his life story. There's a lot of costume help. Hair changes and all sorts of fun stuff props, a multitude of little things and when you put that together with all the weeks of rehearsal time, it just sort of jells. Actually makes it easy.

Richard Ruelas: There's some aspects of his life that do seem fictional. When you read the script, did some of it jump out at you, the guy couldn't have come from these humble beginnings to this?

Kathryn James: Some of it it's amazing, riding the rails and boxing in Philadelphia and I'm thinking here's this guy with a college degree, but he's boxing and he's working in the fields, and then he comes back to Arizona and starts this political career.

Richard Ruelas: Yeah, is that a running theme, sort of the notion that here's a guy who earned a degree, and then decided society doesn't want me, American society doesn't want me.

James Garcia: A big theme of his life was education, a thread all the way through his life and into his 90s and he's still alive of course, he was still visiting schools and talking to children about the value of education because his life depended on every step he took through the educational process but his life was also, think about this, the man crossed during the Mexican revolution, lived through the '20s, '30s, rural Arizona, he was living in a period of time in which you could still see signs that said no Mexicans or dogs allowed in my restaurant. Those were the times he lived through and he became a lawyer, and he became a judge. His life is about overcoming brick walls sometimes to get to the next step in his life.

Richard Ruelas: I know there was a statewide tour. What was the reaction like around the state?

Richard Schultz: It was excellent. We went from Flagstaff all the way in the north to the south of gallus. And they lived down in that area. They were the hometown favorites. They were well received. We also were in Tucson and Phoenix previously. But I think what it is is the title American dreamer is so apropos because he represents Americans in the 20th century. You see every obstacle in his story. He's a hobo during the depression, and that reflects what was going on.

Richard Ruelas: You start seeing some of the pictures from the play, again the varied roles you have to depict and the audience really reacts to seeing how he looked through time.

James Garcia: This is one of the things I kept reminding people, this man has lived almost as long as the state has existed. When you're talking about Arizona history, you're talking about his life. One of the other things that I want to mention is it's called American dreamer purposely because in many ways, he was sort of the originally, dreamer. We talk about young undocumented immigrants who come here and grow up as Americans. He crossed undocumented with 12 other members of his family yet managed to achieve all of the amazing things that he did, including representing the United States to three other nations.

Richard Ruelas: Is there something that you get when dreamers, when young people see this?

James Garcia: Unequivocably, yes. They see their life through him. They realize he's replicating so much.

Richard Ruelas: The struggle, the fight, the boxing. So is that the message that audiences gathered from it? This fight, the struggle, this was done, you can overcome the obstacles in front of you?

Richard Schultz: It speaks to all audiences, regardless of what your own challenges may be, be it racial, gender or otherwise. There are obstacles and they can be overcome, but the persistence and the belief in yourself and the belief in the ideals that you feel strongly about is what carried him through and what would carry others through.

Richard Ruelas: You get to play some of the key people in his life. Did you get to meet with him? Did you get to talk to him about what people did? Did you channel your own life?

Kathryn James: I actually we had a copy of his autobiography and that was really helpful and hearing some of his own stories when we met with him occasionally. He really man can tell a story.

Richard Ruelas: He certainly can. What does he think of the play?

James Garcia: He's been to it twice actually and he enjoys it. He's a diplomat so he seems to genuinely enjoy it. The person I was fearful of would be his wife who's extremely blunt and honest about everything and she loved it. If I expected she didn't like it, we would have heard about it. She loved the piece.

Richard Ruelas: I talked with him in 2012, we were doing sort of at the series of centennial series, he seemed surprised that there hadn't been anyone else, that there hadn't been another Latino governor or another Latino statewide office holder.

James Garcia: And I think that has a lot to do with his attitude towards it because again and again, he faced obstacles, a time when discrimination was rampant and people would tell him you can't do this because you are Mexican, and he basically said why can't I do it? And his whole life was that way. I think on some levels, he is surprised.

Richard Ruelas: This is the third staging of it. Who is the audience? Who comes to see this play?

Richard Schultz: It's truly diverse. We see die hard theater goers that come because it's a story that they're curious about. We certainly see a strong representation of the Hispanic population coming out. Our audiences are as diverse as the characters that are represented on the stage, and I think it speaks to people for a number of reasons. I'm a transplant from the Midwest and when I learned of his story, I was surprised that he was the only Hispanic governor, something that I assumed there would have been more often. I think people leave with an appreciation of how ahead of the times he really was throughout his life and even in being the first Hispanic governor and so far, the only one.

Richard Ruelas: What would we see behind the scenes if we could get the behind the scenes look? Just beyond the wings.

Kathryn James: People running in all different directions, clothes flying, costumes flying.

James Garcia: Helping each other put costumes on.

Kathryn James: Put costumes on, take costumes off, does anybody know where the book is I'm supposed to be carrying, who moved my props?

Richard Ruelas: What is the age range you go through during the play?

Kathryn James: I think when we first meet his mother, she's pretty young, maybe 15, 16. Maybe.

Richard Schultz: Early 20s, yeah.

Kathryn James: And then we go all the way up to when she dies, 87.

Richard Ruelas: And then characters in between that are all over.

Kathryn James: Mrs. wright.

James Garcia: She plays different character.

Kathryn James: The teacher who encouraged him from her early 20s all the way up until --

James Garcia: A great variety of characters, the mom, a teacher, an emissary from the administration, she plays a whole variety of things that are just incredible.

Richard Schultz: Not to mention all the other important American figures that pop up in this. President carter, Linden Johnson, we see carl Hayden. Truly represents across the section of Arizona history.

Richard Ruelas: He has an amazing life, living in California right now.

James Garcia: San Diego area.

Richard Ruelas: But we can certainly catch up on his life, American dreamer, March 27th, 28th and the matinee on the 29th. Tickets online. Thanks, everybody for joining us. We'll see you at the theater.

James Garcia: Thank you very much.

James E. Garcia:Playwright and Actor, American Dreamer: The Life and Times of Raúl H. Castro; Richard Schultz:Director, American Dreamer: The Life and Times of Raúl H. Castro; Kathryn James:Actress, American Dreamer: The Life and Times of Raúl H. Castro;

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