Ok, I confess it. When I posted a facebook status a couple of days ago celebrating that I had met Jose Cruz Gonzales, I did it partly as an experiment to see how many of my friends had actually heard of him. I was not surprised to find out that none of them (not even my father, who knows everything) know who he is. Do you?
If you do, it's probably because you have either a) been to a production of one of his plays at Childsplay in Arizona, or b) Studied Theatre for Youth. Jose Cruz Gonzales is one of the most prolific playwrights of theatre for youth (another being Suzan Zeder, a professor here at UT Austin). His work is especially exciting to me, as he writes bilingual and trilingual plays. Many of his works reflect his hispanic heritage, incorprating elements of magical realism seamlessly into the plot. Meeting him and speaking to him about language was thrilling.
Theatre for Youth is a very young field. Perhaps that is why its heroes are practically unknown to the general public. Who among you have heard of Dorothy Heathcote or Aurand Harris? You may never have heard the name "Winifred Ward" (unless you went to Northwestern) but she is the George Washington of Theatre for Youth, the woman largely responsible for shaping the field into what it is today. She's one of my heroes. If you've never heard of her, look her up.
There is another, darker reason why you may be unfamiliar with most of these names, and any teacher (especially arts teachers) will relate to it. After all, those who can, do, and those who can't, teach, right? For some reason Americans tend to think that because they are children, we can get away with presenting young audiences with bad theatre. "It doesn't matter, they won't notice. They're just kids." It's a deplorable attitude. We expect the very best out of our schools, so why, when those same students enter the theatre, are we content with mediocrity? These students deserve better. They deserve to see high-quality, well-written, and well-produced productions designed specifically to address the issues they deal with and portray the world they live in. I have seen to much "children's theatre" where the plot is obvious, formulaic, even insulting, and the production value is shockingly low. I challenge you to become familiar with the names I have given. Find out if there is a play by Jose Cruz Gonzales being produced in your community. If not, why not? It is not enough that those very few of us in the field of theatre for youth are asking these questions. We must, as a society, demand better theatre.