I have made people laugh and think. I believe that is a great combination to reach people’s souls. Once people’s hearts are open, a message is easier to convey.
As a part of our series about “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became An Artist”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Herbert Siguenza. He is best known for co-founding the theater performance group Culture Clash, which which has been active for 36 years since its start in 1984. He is currently the playwright-in-residence at San Diego REP and has continued to pursue many solo ventures in addition to his group work. Siguenza was born in San Francisco, California, in 1959. Of Salvadoran descent, he spent a portion of his life living in El Salvador with his family before returning to California as a teenager due to civil unrest taking place in the country at the time.
He was originally trained as an artist and print maker, attending California College of Arts and Crafts after returning from El Salvador. He served for 10 years as the art director at La Raza Silkscreen Center La Raza Graphics in San Francisco. From there, he moved into performing arts and became involved with Teatro Gusto, performing in places like the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts.
Siguenza began his acting career in 1984 when he co-founded Culture Clash with Ric Salinas, Richard Montoya, José Antonio Burciaga, Marga Gómez, and Monica Palacios. Together, the group toured the country performing Chicano theater with social commentary through the use of satire. Siguenza, Salinas, and Montoya still perform together today. In addition to A Weekend with Pablo Picasso, Siguenza wrote and performed ¡Cantinflas! about the Mexican comic, co-commissioned by the Alley Theatre in Houston and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco.
Other work includes Steal Heaven and El Henry (winner Best New Play San Diego Critics Circle), an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Henry IV presented at the La Jolla Playhouse in June 2014, and Manifest Destinitis, which premiered at the San Diego REP during its 2016–2017 season. In 2016, Siguenza began a three-year playwright residency at the San Diego REP as a part of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation’s National Playwright Residency Program, administered by HowlRound.
Siguenza served as a cultural consultant to Disney/Pixar’s hit animated film “Coco”, ensuring an accurate depiction of the Mexican culture that it explores. He is also voiced the great-great-granduncles, Tío Felipe and Tío Oscar.
He is currently working on writing Birthday, a dark musical centered around deceased people coming back to life for 24 hours on their birthdays. This show is a departure from his previous work in its macabre content matter.
Thank you so much for joining us. What is the “backstory” behind what brought you to this point in your career?
I am amazed to look back and realize that I have been a full time artist (Visual artist, actor, playwright) for forty years! I’m basically the same person I was when I started. Now I’m wiser and a much better artist. I have always gone along with the flow of life and the universe provides if you keep your heart and good intentions open. I know this sounds “new age” but it’s true!
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?
H: I have funny stories touring with Culture Clash. When we first started, we would perform wherever they would call us. One time we performed for senior citizens at San Francisco’s Moscone Center and I also remember performing at the Gilroy Garlic Festival. We came on after singing squirrels.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
H: I’m really excited about two projects I am currently writing and developing. The first one Is BIRTHDAY, a musical I’m writing with composer and lyricist Mark Spiro. It’s about people coming back to life for 24 hours on their birthday. Another project is ISAAC ASIMOV GRAND MASTER FUNK, about the science fiction writer and Afrofuturism.
Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
H:I don’t normally name drop but I had the pleasure to meet and work with Tom Hanks on his film LARRY CROWN. He’s a Bay Area guy like me and the nicest guy you will ever meet.
Where do you draw inspiration from? Can you share a story about that?
H: I really don’t know. Picasso said, “Inspiration does not exist unless you are working”. That is so true! I always start something and let the subconscious take over.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
H: Yes I think so. I have made people laugh and think. I believe that is a great combination to reach people’s souls. Once people’s hearts are open, a message is easier to convey.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
H: “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” are:
1- Things will get hard but never give up. It’s just a temporary situation.
2- If working as an artist brings you joy, keep doing it. Money will follow.
3- Read and study Shakespeare. It will come handy someday.
4- Always bring a part of yourself to every role you do. It will be authentic that way.
5-Always feed the parking meter.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
H: I have always been a searcher of truth. I have been meditating everyday for the last year and It has changed my life for the better. I see the bigger picture now and I don’t sweat the small stuff. I truly believe if all people meditated on a daily basis, there would be peace in the world.
We have been blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she just might see this.
H: I think it would be a living Beatle. Paul or Ringo. They were such a big part of my childhood and growing up with them. I would just ask them about certain songs and people they have met. It would be like being with older brothers.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
H: Facebook and Instagram only.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!