For almost 50 years, El Paso Community College (EPCC) has played a significant role in the culture and lifestyle of El Paso. Since 2016 this has not been truer than the partnership forged with the El Paso Community Foundation (EPCF) to produce VIVA! El Paso.
Now celebrating its 40th year in production, VIVA! has become a summertime theatrical staple for visitors to the southwest and residents alike. Through theater, song and dance, VIVA! shares the complex history and makeup of the area.
“El Paso is the multi-cultural capital of the world,” said Keith Townsend, EPCC Instructor and VIVA! El Paso Artistic Director, “VIVA! shows that we do not divide.”
The most important aspect of EPCC’s involvement in VIVA! is the participation of its students.
The EPCC Theater program has a long history in educating young actors in all areas of bringing a theater production to life. A great example is Erick Canales. He is the lead male role in this year’s production, coming back as different characters through El Paso’s history.
An EPCC Theater major, Canales said it’s fun being someone else. Theater is in his blood; he plans to become a professional actor and then proceed into directing and teaching.
Canales knew VIVA! was for him when he heard Keith Townsend was directing. “Keith is always there for the students,” said Canales. “He is there when they have doubts, telling them that they can do it.”
The EPCC Theater program impacts all students who have attended EPCC. The want to come back always exists. EPCC and Western Kentucky University graduate, Camille Acosta returns to VIVA! for a second year.
In this year’s production she narrates segments of the play as the Spirit of Earth. Acosta enjoys working on VIVA! “it has created a new pipeline for El Paso actors,” she said. Acosta plans to try her acting skills in New York and Los Angeles. She sees herself as a teacher someday.
Acosta has fond memories of her days at EPCC.
“Since the age of 15, I performed in Keith Townsend’s productions at EPCC. All the teachers care so much for you; they want you to succeed.”
When you mention theater in El Paso, the name of Keith Townsend is sure to follow. Through VIVA! and all his productions, Townsend encourages his students to give back to the audience, to the community. He chose to make El Paso his home and has spread theater throughout local high schools and EPCC.
He jumped at the chance to lead VIVA! El Paso when the opportunity arose from the EPCC and El Paso Community Foundation partnership. “The Foundation understands the performing arts,” Townsend said. “The promotion team at El Paso Live put students into a learning opportunity at every aspect of the theater production.”
VIVA! El Paso, now in its 40 th year, will light up McKelligon Canyon Fridays and Saturdays through July 29th. Remembering its multi-cultural heritage, two performances on July 21 st and 22 nd will be presented in Spanish.
The strength of the production can be seen in its makeup; many are former El Pasoans who have returned after reaching fame in the world of entertainment. Playwright Marty Martin went on to Broadway with much success, but now finds joy in the work he has done with the new VIVA! El Paso.
Cody Ritchie, Musical Director, has worked in El Paso theater for decades. He has partnered with Keith Townsend on many EPCC productions.
Famed Rock musician, Jim Ward has lent his hand in the musical score of the play. Ward is nationally known through his work with the bands Sparta and At The Drive In.
Dance is a very important part of this year’s VIVA! because of the work of Choreographer, Jaime Carrasco.
Through 400 years, 390 costumes and more than 100 participants, VIVA! El Paso shows the Borderland at its best. EPCC creates a college-going culture by engaging students inside and outside of the classroom. VIVA! El Paso is just one example of EPCC’s commitment to strengthen its partnership with the community.