By Xóchil Ramírez
Boyle Heights Beat
With arms raised near their ears, students at a Casa 0101 theater class mimic their instructor, Eddie Padilla, and make clickety-clack noises, similar to a roller coaster.
Without warning, they begin to yell and swiftly move their arms through the air. As Padilla turns left and right, the students follow, creating one intense, united movement in the Boyle Heights theater.
Students undergo this type of warm-up activity before and after a scene is rehearsed to help build confidence and acting skills. The activities also create a strong teacher-student connection. Toward the end of each session, the students give each other short back massages, pat each other’s shoulders and say, “Good job.”
Casa 0101 strives to inspire an ardor for performing arts by offering free classes to youth that also help them embrace their community.
Its founder, Josefina Lopez, named the theater “Casa,” because she wanted people to feel welcome and at home. A sign above the 99-seat auditorium reads “Mi Casa es Su Casa” “My home is your home.”
“I was inspired to create Casa 0101 to create a space for children and artists to be nurtured, to create, and take risks and grow,” she said.
Those who may not receive support from their families are welcome at Casa – where they can find comfort, despite troubles in the community or at school. Its classes encourage youth to explore their capacities and talents, Lopez said.
Jazmin Lezo, 8, from Los Angeles, has taken full advantage of the opportunity, paving the way toward a possible career in choreography and theater. She attends Saturday morning dance classes taught by Blanca Soto, a dance instructor at Casa 0101, followed by an acting class taught by Padilla, who also has been volunteering as an acting instructor there for about10 years. She goes to additional dance classes with Soto during the week and takes piano lessons near the Huntington Park area.
As the youngest of three, she’s been influenced by her 12-year-old sister Azucena’s involvement with Casa 0101. That sister took the same courses in 2013.
Jazmin also has been inspired by her eldest sister, Daisy, who attended Francisco Bravo Medical Magnet High School. Daisy says that she would always encourage Jazmin to get involved in extracurricular activities because they were essential for college admissions.
“I think she looks up to me because I’ve always been an active, well-rounded community member,” the 18-year-old said. “She has taken (an) interest in anything that I do, whether it be AP courses, piano, dance classes or acting classes.”
Courses for youth and adults
Casa 0101 offers most of its courses for youth, however, classes for adults are also available for a charge. The adult classes offered are for playwriting, opera and improvisation. Youth classes include dance and acting.
After each session is over, there is a performance for parents and community members. One Saturday afternoon acting class allows students to create original scripts based on their experiences. They later collaborate to produce a play held at Casa 0101 or at the Boyle Heights City Hall.
“It builds up social and acting skills,” said 19-year-old Amber Castellanos, a member at Casa 0101 for three years. “It has boosted my confidence socially.”
Theodore Roosevelt High School senior Erick Chajon, agrees. “It breaks shy people out of their shell. It gives them the confidence they need to be social,” the 17-year-old said. “It’s also a safe space with no judgments and there’s a lot of freedom here.”
Casa 0101 welcomes all youth, even if they struggle academically or have encountered negative influences in their neighborhood.
“For me, it’s not just about doing theater, it’s really about making an impact in somebody’s life – long term,” says Padilla. “It requires the entire community to be vested in the lives of our youth and not toss them aside as soon as we see the indicators.”
Padilla tells the story of how the arts helped one now successful young actor, Johnny Ortiz, find a new path.
The year was 2006. A teacher asked Padilla to speak at a school career day with a 10-year-old boy who had been kicked out of multiple schools. His name was Johnny Ortiz and his only interest was acting. Ortiz was invited to Casa 0101, made an impression, and was invited to upcoming auditions by the staff.
Ortiz would constantly find trouble, but, with his good luck, he would receive calls for auditions each time he was released from jail.
Investing in all kids
“He has what Josefina and I like to call a ‘beacon of light’,” Padilla said. “Every time he’s getting into a place of shadows, darkness, or difficulties, he’s still able to look this way and think, ‘Okay, this is where I need to realign myself,’ and he comes back and he visits us and we have conversations all the time.”
Today, Ortiz stars in the television drama series American Crime and was given the lead role in the movie Soy Nero and Nani.
Padilla encourages parents to value their child’s interest in the arts. Padilla and other instructors also remind their students of the significance of arts in Boyle Heights.
“It’s about being alive, to feel life in a different way and to understand that cultures are different,” Soto said. “Through the arts, you understand that humanity has great diversity and we learn to accept other people and feel good about who we are.”
Lopez agrees. “Every child is an artist,” she says. “Creativity is part of being resilient and being a full person.
“We want children to develop their creativity because when you are creative you can create the life you want and you can become the author of (your) destiny.”
Youth Programs at CASA 0101
- Ages: (4-24)
- When: Saturdays
- Time: From 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
- Where: 2102 E. 1st Street, Los Angeles, 90033
- Free courses available year round
Visit casa0101.org for more information
Xóchil Ramírez is a junior at the Math, Science and Technology Magnet Academy at Roosevelt High School.
All photos by Ernesto Orozco