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Arts & Culture

Chavira's London Summer: 'It Reaffirmed What I Want For Myself, My Children, And San Antonio'

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San Antonio’s Ricardo Chavira, best known for his role as “Carlos” on the hit TV program Desperate Housewives, wraps up a special summer gig this week as host of TPR’s weekly broadcasts of the San Antonio Symphony on KPAC 88.3 FM and KTXI 90.1 FM (you can hear the program Saturday night at 7 p.m.). “It’s one of the things I’m most proud of,” he says with a smile. But it isn’t the only thing that’s been keeping him busy. Earlier this summer, Chavira says he reconnected with his theatrical roots by spending four months in London preparing for and starring in a production of Stephen AdlyGuirgis’ Tony Award-nominated The Motherf**ker with the Hat at the prestigious National Theatre.

In the show, Chavira played Jackie, a former drug dealer just out of prison, and ready to reconnect with his longtime girlfriend, Veronica. While getting ready for bed, Jackie spots a man’s hat in Veronica’s apartment, which “sets him off into a spiral of doubt, suspicion and paranoia and anxiety,” Chavira says. “Jackie’s kind of like the pinball in the machine and [the other characters are] all the levers and the switches and everything that are pushing him this way and that,” he explains.

Chavira’s performance received rave reviews from The Guardian and the Londonist, among other publications across the pond. The fast pace of the show took a lot out of him each night. "A friend of mine who worked with me on Housewives came to see the show, and he was like, ‘you know, I run a lot of spartan races and marathons, and you are expelling the energy of what looks to be about a 5 to 7K run in a single performance!'" Talking to Chavira, he sounds just as excited about the theatrical experience as he is about the play itself.

“Los Angeles can be a bit disheartening and it can get you jaded. And being on a hit TV show and making a lot of money can make you soft,” he says, referring to his time on Desperate Housewives. “I think [this project] just strengthened me again. And it definitely reaffirmed what I want for myself, and more importantly what I want for my children. And the great thing is that I still want all of that here in San Antonio.”

“[The National Theatre] is an institution,” Chavira continues. “It’s publicly funded, it’s government-funded. We don’t have anything like that here in the United States. It speaks volumes about us as a society, I think.”

Chavira says he’d love to bring a little bit of his experience abroad with the National Theatre back to San Antonio. “I think that we could benefit from extending our hands to invite people not just domestically, but internationally to come into this city, especially with regards to the arts."

“I think we do have a wonderful arts community,” Chavira continues, “but it could be that much better and more prolific, and we could really extend ourselves and push ourselves to being a top ten or top five arts community in our country if we would allow it. And if we would support it.”

The support always seems to be where arts organizations continue to struggle. Chavira says arts education needs to start at home.

“I look at the area of the community where I live. So many of the children are pushed to sports…there are dance schools that are out there [in my part of town], but they’re not teaching classical ballet. There are acting classes out there but they’re not teaching theatre. You have to teach from a classical framework. You have to teach those foundation materials.”

“My wife and I, with our children, we make sure it’s one language, one sport, one instrument, you know? You have to broaden the horizons for your children. Nothing opened my eyes to that more than living abroad for the time that I did over the summer in London.”

As talk turns to the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts, Chavira admits to not even realizing there’s a resident theater company at the venue, AtticRep. “And I consider myself somebody who’s fairly well-versed on the arts scene in San Antonio, and on the theater scene in San Antonio,” he says.

“A large problem, I think, for our arts community is that it’s [concentrated] within a specific area of this city. And it really needs to kind of reach out to these other areas and try and find these kids from the suburbs and bring them in,” he says. Chavira is also a bit mystified by some of the names on the boards of arts organizations in town. “I can get a bunch of famous names and throw ‘em on a piece of paper, but ... what is that really doing for us as an organization?”

As he looks toward the fall, Chavira has a film in the can that he shot with Rob Reiner, “Being Charlie,” that premiered to a warm reception at the Toronto International Film Festival. Here at home, Chavira notes “we got a new puppy, and I’m reintegrating myself with my wife and our children,” after his summer abroad. “I’m sure there are [other] things on the horizon, but I’m okay with that. The one thing that I finally learned to embrace is the certainty of the uncertainty that is my job. In the meantime, I focus on family, what matters most,” he says.

Watch excerpts of Chavira's stage performance below (Warning, F-bombs galore):

 

Extended Interview Highlights:

On reviewing the script for The Motherf**ker With the Hat

I was watching a basketball game, because if the material is not good, then I’ll usually drift off and start watching the game, which is usually what I do with about 90% of television scripts! [laughs] But this is theater. So my wife came in and asked me what the score in the game was, and I was like “Huh?” She saw that I hadn’t even looked at the game. She’s like “it’s that good?” “Yeah, it’s really that good.” “Are you gonna go to New York to audition for this?” “Yeah, I need to get myself up there next week.” “You’re gonna get it,” she said. 

On relating to his character, Jackie

My wife and I have been together for a very long time, and I think if you’ve been with somebody in a relationship for a very long time, there’s always going to be those years or months or whatever where there are moments of doubt, suspicion, and questioning the partner. It comes and goes in waves, and hopefully those waves get smaller and smaller.

'Jackie,' within his history, had lost his mother recently. I lost my mother at a very early age, so that was something I could identify with. The relationship he has with his cousin... the play is very much a traditional Latinorelationship, and although this one is Puerto Rican, I could easily identify with that male Latino relationship, and what that is, and the pride and machismo that exists within that, and with the relationship to the women; the self-identification of bravado and ‘I’m a man,’ but I can’t show my feelings, I’m conflicted. It was a lot of fun. 

On how theater can help prepare kids for adulthood

To be able to speak in front of your colleagues [is important]. God forbid that one of these kids has to take a speech class, and the first time that they’ve taken one is in their 20s! I know that because I taught speech when I was at graduate school, and I saw kids that were 23, 24, 25 taking a speech class for the first time. I had one kid pass out on me! He fainted, and we had to call an ambulance! My son is now taking speech at his school. He’s in seventh grade, and he’s already given his second or third speech, and I’m working with him. He hates it because he knows that his dad used to teach speech at the collegiate level, but he’s happy that I’m there to help him.