Drama: A Life in the Theatre

Drama: A Life in the Theatre

Ballet Dancer by Nina Serrano

Drama for me began with my childhood love of performing on stage. As a young adult I taught creative dramatics in schools and community centers. I incorporated theatre into my social and cultural activism. Profoundly influenced and energized by the theories of Bertolt Brecht, I brought my theatrical skills into my political work and vice versa.

In the early sixties I acted in small San Francisco classical repertory theatres and produced and directed radio drama and literature programs on KPFA-FM. I joined the San Francisco Mime troupe in 1964 as a teacher and director and soon after, was mobilized into the Anti-Vietnam War movement, organizing an agit-prop truck theater group that performed “pop operas” on the back of a truck in the streets and at rallies.

In 1967, I directed and produced Fred Hayden’s anti-war Vietnam War play Changeover and worked with Country Joe McDonald to compose and perform the music.  Fred too was Brechtian. Changeover toured northern California campuses and performed excerpts at rallies.

Cover to the Chicken Made of Rags Cassette Tape

Cover to the Chicken Made of Rags Cassette Tape

In 1968 I wrote my first play, with Salvadoran writer Roque Dalton, which was produced for Cuban TV (ICR). By the 1970’s the peace movement in the USA gained momentum and I joined Hollywood movie star Jane Fonda’s “Free The Army” (FTA) as a co-director with Francine Parker. This show trouped to army bases or nearby cafes with the message of peace.

Through the sponsoring organization the Entertainment Industry for Peace and Justice (EIPJ) I met Judith Binder and together we wrote The Chicken Made of Rags, published in Scripts Magazine. In 1972-73 I also taught acting at the Peralta Community College in Oakland, CA.

1974-75 I worked in rural theatre in Cuba with Huberto Llamas, directing and developing plays with for the cowboys and dairy workers at a collective dairy farm “La Loma del Tanque” near the city of Santa Cruz. I also toured with the “Rosenberg Brigade” which performed the couple’s letters across the island.

On my return to California, The Chicken Made of Rags came to life produced by a few different theatre groups that also trouped the show to schools. My brother, Philip Serrano, wrote the eleven songs for the production.

Leaflet for the Play "The Story of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg",

Leaflet for the Play “The Story of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg”,

In 1976, Judith and I joined forces with historian Paul Richards to write and produce The Story of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg based on the spy trial transcripts. The production toured the Bay area and was also produced in a TV version on KQED’s Open studio.

In 1978, Judith and I wrote and produced Weavings based on interviews with women in the underground movements in Chile in the 70’s and Nazi Germany in the 30’s. Philip Serrano wrote the music. By this time the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts had opened and Weavings was one of the first productions. Weavings then toured the San Francisco Bay Area and a special version was created for Channel 14, the Spanish language TV station.

As director of Community Theatre Arts, I taught many bilingual theatre workshops and worked closely in San Francisco with Humberto Martinez of Argentina, who had developed interesting popular theatre techniques. I produced a KQED-TV Open Studio video version of La Cantata de Santa Maria de Iquique (Quilapayun) performed by over 20 immigrant cannery workers from San Jose California with handmade English titles by artist Irving Fromer. Throughout the 1980’s and 90’s, I performed as a storyteller at fairs and schools. I created a CD version of The Chicken Made of Rags, incorporating leading Bay area musicians with Holly Near singing the leading role. From 1993 to 1999, I directed the Stagebridge Storytellers in the Schools Program in the Bay Area, performing in schools and senior centers. I wrote my Master’s thesis in 2002 at Naropa University on the “Storytelling Movement and the Need for New Myths.”Nina conducting acting workshop in Cuba, 2011, photo by Tina Leish

In 2011, I conducted acting workshops with theater students at the National School of Art (ENA) in Cuba to create scenes from the script which Roque Dalton and I wrote in 1968.  I was in Cuba to participate in Tina Leisch’s award-winning film about Roque Dalton. In June 2012, I produced Mary Rudge’s “Occupy!!! A Reader’s Theatre of Perspectives” for KPFA-FM with a cast of 25. Most recently, in October 2018 I produced Charlotte Marchant’s dramatic presentation, “One Hundred Letters From My Father” for KPFA-fm. It is expected to also broadcast from WBAI-fm in New York City.

Other storytelling and drama resources:

About Nina Serrano: Nina is a well-known, international prize-winning inspirational author and poet. With a focus on Latino history and culture, she is also a playwright, filmmaker, KPFA talk show host, a former Alameda County Arts Commissioner, and a co-founder of the San Francisco Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts. Oakland Magazine’s “best local poet” in 2010, she is a former director of the San Francisco Poetry in the Schools program and the Bay Area’s Storytellers in the Schools program. A Latina activist for social justice, women’s rights, and the arts, Nina Serrano at 84 remains vitally engaged in inspiring change and exploring her abundant creativity. For more information go to ninaserrano.com or contact her publisher at estuarypress.com. For more detailed information about Nina see About Nina on her website.

About Estuary Press: Estuary Press is the publisher of Nicaragua Way by Nina Serrano and Heart Suite, a trilogy of three books of poetry by Nina Serrano. It is also the home of the Harvey Richards Media Archive, a repository of photography and video documentaries of the social change and political movements during the 1960s and 1970s. Contact Paul Richards (510) 967 5577, paulrichards@estuarypress.com or visit estuarypress.com for more details.

MEDIA – For photos & interviews: Paul Richards (510) 967 5577; paulrichards@estuarypress.com


Drama: A Life in the Theatre — 1 Comment

  1. Nina, loved reading about you. Trying to figure out how to make more of facebook myself. This is great.

    Thanks for putting up “Overthrowing Capitalism” flyer.

    See you this weekend,


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