Art & Culture

El Teatro Campesino shows volunteers how to create Dia de los Muertos masks

Workshops foster community and artistic expression.
One of the masks created at the workshops. Photo provided by El Teatro Campesino.
One of the masks created at the workshops. Photo provided by El Teatro Campesino.
Cristal Gonzalez (middle) checks in with volunteers at an art workshop put on by El Teatro Campesino. Photo by Noe Magaña.
Cristal Gonzalez (middle) checks in with volunteers at an art workshop put on by El Teatro Campesino. Photo by Noe Magaña.
A monkey mask before being painted. Photo by Noe Magaña.
A monkey mask before being painted. Photo by Noe Magaña.
A volunteer begins to paint a mask. Photo by Noe Magaña.
A volunteer begins to paint a mask. Photo by Noe Magaña.

El Teatro Campesino hosted 12 workshops over four weeks to make large puppets and masks for the Dia de los Muertos procession in San Juan Bautista on Nov. 2.

Among the 16 people attending the second workshop on Sept. 19 was Liz Gill of Salinas. She brought her three children along so they could get more involved with El Teatro Campesino.

“Art is always a great thing to have the kids try out and kind of break out of their comfort zone and their barriers and see where they thrive and what they are passionate about,” Gill said. 

For 10-year-old Jayden, his favorite part was crushing paper and pinning it to a mannequin to form the shape of a mask. His brother Tyler, 14, said he preferred sketching the masks on paper and taking into consideration how much room the actors would have to breathe and see.

Cristal Gonzalez with El Teatro led the workshops and guided volunteers through the process. She encouraged participants to use their imagination and began by having them create a puppet with two random objects. 

The goal of the workshops was to create six puppets: two monkeys, a dragon, two skulls, and a tiger/snake alebrije. The workshops separated the process into phases:

  • Esqueleto (skeleton)—shaping the puppet or mask
  • Mache—“Think of it as the meat of the puppet,” said Gonzalez 
  • Paint and color
  • Movimiento/heartbeat—making the puppets come to life

Gonzalez said the paint and color phase was important because it enabled volunteers to understand primary, secondary and mixing colors. In this session, volunteers received guidance from an artist.

While the theater didn’t host a Dia de los Muertos procession last year, Gonzalez said this year it will collaborate with artists in the area to not only make one happen, but to raise the performance quality and unite the artistic community.

“Too often we work independently and it’s important to recognize there is so much talent just 45 minutes from here,” Gonzalez said. “We’re talking about the Silicon Valley, we’re talking about Watsonville, we’re talking about Monterey County.”

In keeping with El Teatro’s tradition of being politically active, Gonzalez said Dia de los Muertos is an opportunity to shine a light on issues in the world. In doing so, she wants the community to unite, as those in the workshop did.

 

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Noe Magaña

Noe Magaña is a BenitoLink reporter. He also experiments with videography and photography. A San Benito High School alumnus with a bachelor's in journalism from San Jose State and a Liberal Arts Associate's Degree from Gavilan College. Noe also attended San Jose City College and was the managing editor for the City College Times, the school's newspaper. He also was a reporter and later a copy editor for San Jose State's Spartan Daily.