Award-winning playwright, poet, and journalist Gregg Barrios has pushed the envelope for most of his artistic career, shedding light on the lesser-known, and oft-ignored, characters and realities of the local and national Latino community through his writing.
During the fourth annual San Antonio Book Festival on Saturday, April 2, Barrios will be the first playwright to be featured on the Festival’s schedule of events.
“The thing is, people usually don’t consider that some people read plays,” Barrios told the Rivard Report. “(Book festivals) have poetry, self-help books, cook books, but no playwrights. So I’m very happy.”
A few scenes from Barrios’ most recent play, I-DJ, will be performed on Saturday by actors Hunter Wulff and Greg Hinojosa, who have acted in the play’s past performances. A book signing and discussion with Barrios will be led by Out In SA Editor Elaine Wolff after the performance.
The event will be held in the Festival Room (first floor of the library behind the computer stations), from 11:15 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. For the full San Antonio Book Festival schedule of events, click here.
Clay Smith, San Antonio Book Festival literary director, found Barrios and his “activism” to be the perfect addition to the Festival’s lineup.
“Gregg is doing something interesting here by really including the voices of people and characters who sometimes don’t end up between the covers of a book … or who don’t normally get included in plays,” he said.
I-DJ, which was performed to critical acclaim at the New York FRIGID theater festival last year, tells the story of a Mexican-American deejay, Amado Guerrero Paz or Warren Peace, and his search for recognition in mainstream media as a gay Latino. Against the backdrop of the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s, the play uses popular music, predominantly from Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss’ A&M Records, as a key storytelling method in the production, Barrios said.
“(I-DJ) is very evocative of someone who loves music,” he said. “We all have these memories of where we were when (certain events) happened.”
Paz’s story traverses through politically-charged moments in U.S. history, like the Chicano movement — el Movimiento — and the Vietnam War, and concludes at the start of the AIDS crisis, something that Barrios has personally seen take the lives of many Latino artists during his 20 years living in the Los Angeles art scene. It was those experiences that would eventually inspire him to write I-DJ, he said.
“I saw a lot of people that were at the height of their career and created beautiful pieces of work and every one of them died from AIDS,” he said. “So I said, ‘These guys will never get to see their life’s work complete, so why don’t I write a story about that?'”
Those who read I-DJ or watch the production will learn of Paz’s yearning for positive — and relatable — Latino role models in conventional media. Amidst the stereotypical portrayals of the Latino gang banger, the hyper-sexualized Latina woman, and the perpetual suffering of the impoverished Latino, it is no secret that the true, multi-faceted stories of Latinos of all cultural backgrounds have been underrepresented in popular media portrayals for quite some time.
Many Latinos know that Paz’s experience, though told in a theatrical setting, is not fiction. And that Barrios is no exception.
“I think there’s a whole generation out there that needs to have themselves validated,” he said. “Their story may not necessarily be (Paz’s) story, but the fact that it’s a Latino story is important. You have remnants of the culture in the play, the background, the enchiladas, the Movimiento, you’ve got all of these sign posts that make us part and parcel of that community.”
For Barrios, a Victoria, Texas native, bringing I-DJ to the San Antonio Book Festival is in a sense a “homecoming.” He was stationed for a time at Lackland Airforce Base in the 1960s and after working as a journalist in Los Angeles for 20 years, Barrios returned to San Antonio where he later wrote at the Express News for three years, watched his performance piece about the real stories of local war veterans, “Telling: San Antonio,” at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts in 2014, and continued to thrive among a close cohort of local artists.
He now lives in the city full-time, a place where his artistry largely came to life.
“All these things happened in San Antonio, so how can I not want to share my success or my creativity with the city that has given me all of that (success),” he said.
Barrios chalks most of his widespread success up to “suerte,” he said, but he’s grateful to be able to use his vocation for others, especially those who may never get a chance to be heard by the larger national community and beyond.
“Here we are on the cusp of Latinos breaking through, but there’s a lot of talented people out there that don’t get the breaks that I’m getting,” he said. “This is for them. This is for the forgotten ones and the ones who don’t have a voice. That’s my philosophy about all of the creatives.”
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article stated that Barrios was an Alice, Texas native when he is originally from Victoria, Texas.
*Top image: Award-winning playwright, poet, and journalist Gregg Barrios resides in San Antonio, where he got his start as a writer decades ago. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone.