Always topical, but broad in scope, La Peña's annual Hecho en Califas Festival features actors, poets, and thespians who poach their material from real-world politics and digest it through comedy or spoken word. Past contributors included comedy troupe Culture Clash, bilingual ska-punk band La Plebe, and rookie playwright Maceo Cabrera Estévez. Varying in form and perspective, they covered topics ranging from US imperialism to the rigmaroles of the immigration debate, but always managed to reflect the exigencies of the current political situation. Contributors to this year's festival — subtitled "Rising Up from the Roots" — have even more on their plate, considering that it's an election year.
Festival curator Sarah Guerra says they're up to the task. This year she moved Hecho en Califas up from its usual November date and built it around timely political issues, such as environmental ethics and the war abroad. Rather than premiere a new theater piece, Guerra will stage two "theater-based" town hall meetings, the first focused on ecological issues and the second on military recruitment in the schools. For the latter production Guerra enlisted Oakland-based acting group headRush, whose members use theater as a pedagogical tool and means of facilitating dialogue in the tradition of Augusto Boal's theater of the oppressed. "It's like having a conversation through acting as opposed to just talking," said headRush co-founder Rosa Gonzalez, explaining that the group will perform two one-act plays about military recruitment, one in which audience members are allowed to stop the action and intervene. (This requires a person to be brave enough to yell "Freeze!" and wedge himself between the characters onstage. Gonzalez said it works "as long as your attitude is around discussion.")
The idea, apparently, is to create the type of performance environment in which spectators become active participants — which dovetails with the election year theme. "I didn't want it to be in a way that would be beating people over the head," said Guerra. Friday night's "La Voz de la Mujer" will feature poet Dina Omar, dance group Bomberas de la Bahia, and the New York group Mahina Movement; Saturday's event will feature the spoken-word group iLL-Literacy and a long jam session — billed as a "continuous mix tape" — featuring funk band the Park and half a dozen local vocalists. Someone will also be on hand to register voters. Hecho en Califas runs October 2-5 at La Peña Cultural Center (3105 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley). $3-$12. LaPena.org