March 23, 2013

Time-traveling Mission Play

San Gabriel revives historic 'Mission Play' for its centennial

First performance of the play since 1947

By Lauren Gold
After sitting dormant for more than six decades, the historic "Mission Play" has been revived and modernized, ready to be performed in two weeks as part of the city's centennial celebration.

The San Gabriel Mission Playhouse was built in 1927 specifically to house the "Mission Play," written in 1911 by Los Angeles Times columnist and Congressman John Steven McGroarty to tell the history of Father Junipero Serra and the founding of the California Missions.

"This was actually one of our priorities when we started planning the centennial celebration three-and-a-half years ago," said Mary Cammarano, co-chair of the city's Centennial Committee. "It is such an important part of our history, we're really thrilled."

The play was originally a pageant play with lengthy periods of song and dance, performed for the first time at the San Gabriel Mission in 1912. With the help of writer Nicole Avenia, creative consultant Tony Plana, producer Anna Cross and Director Jonathan Salisbury, it has been transformed and shortened to appeal to modern audiences for its first performance since 1947.

"The first play was like four hours and it could be very boring to people today," said San Gabriel resident Camila Alva Lopez, 74, who plays older Anita. "I think this new version will be more entertaining. People would walk out or fall asleep if they had to sit through the old version."

Salisbury said the modern "Mission Play" incorporates the many changes the community of San Gabriel has seen over the last 100 years, such as the growing Asian-American population, attitudes toward Native Americans and modern popular culture. The new play will include a more prominent love story between the two main characters, incorporate more of the Native American community and even have a hip-hop dance number. The story is also framed in modern day, as the audience follows a group of teenagers back in time to look at the Mission's history.

"We wanted to try to make it relevant to our community," Salisbury said.

The play will feature members of the local Gabrieleno-Tongva tribe as well as real historic artifacts from the city's museum.
Comment:  For more on California's missions, see Indians Protest Carmel Mission Stamp and Salinan Violin Stolen from Mission.

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