By Lynette Carrington
In his latest creative endeavor, actor/producer/comedian/director Paul Rodriguez brings to light important issues of equality in “The Pitch,” a theatrical production he stars in and wrote. “The Pitch” (or, “How to Pitch a Latino Sitcom that will Never Air”) takes a look at the hurdles that Latinos face when pitching a TV show to a network. Challenges still loom large for Latinos where casting, cultural gaps and stereotyping are concerned in Hollywood. Leave it to Rodriguez to present these issues with a good dose of laughter and finesse, in a way that only he can.
Burbank.com recently caught up with Rodriguez and “The Pitch” co-star, Mike Gomez to find out about this unique stage comedy served up with relevant social and industry commentary. Given recent events in our country, now was the perfect time for “The Pitch.” Rodriguez explains, “It was a perfect storm. For me, the situation started out of frustration. I looked around and I said, ‘Wait a minute, this is not right.’ It started with the elections. Mr. Trump had no problem naming names… Mexicans this, and Mexicans that. He forgot that there’s a whole bunch of us that are quite legal, thank-you, and have served in this country’s Armed Forces.” In all seriousness, Rodriguez says he wouldn’t be surprised if some executive order was issued that would find Latinos back in Guadalajara. As much as I wanted to think he was joking, I could tell he was not.
The Issues Reflected in “The Pitch”
Rodriguez continues, “For the last five years I have had a televisions series that every network that I have gone to doesn’t reject. They say, ‘Yes. Great. Let’s do this.’ They give you a few dollars, you go home and they attach you to some writers that know nothing about you, really, and they proceed to write a pilot and that pilot gets rejected. They’re not rejecting what I had in mind, they’re rejecting what they had in mind. It’s a microcosm of what is going on as a whole.” He notes that this season there are about a dozen African-American TV pilots, but zero Latino pilots. He also explained that time and time again, Latino pilots are continually rejected and not one Latino has the power in the industry to get a pilot green lighted. “All the studies show that Latinos will watch African-American programming, so consequently, if you are an executive, why would you take that risk?” poses Rodriguez.
All too often, Latino roles are token, and not multi-dimensional. The gang-banger, the drug lord, the maid, the prostitute and the thug are all stereotypes. Where are the TV portrayals where a Latino is a successful scientist, a high-level attorney or a powerful CEO? In real life, Latinos occupy all kinds of diverse and rich roles, and with rare exception, those are simply not reflected on TV. In the past, Desi Arnaz was a trailblazer inventing the three-camera shot in the 1950s. Series “Chico and the Man” offered a look at Latino life that was multi-dimensional. Latino actors such as Erik Estrada and Ricardo Montalbán made their marks in positive ways. “We’re moving, but we’re not moving in the right directions,” says Rodriguez. With exceptions such as Gina Rodriguez in “Jane the Virgin” and George Lopez in “TVLand,” the Latino landscape on TV is sparse.
“Is ‘The Pitch’ going to change anything?” asks Rodriguez. “No. ‘The Pitch’ is just going to say to the studio heads that ‘You should consider seriously hiring a Hispanic-American who can green light a project.’ Right now, no network has one. They have executives who have to answer to other executives.” Latino buying power is massive and they represent a huge portion of our population. The heritage and culture is important and should be equally represented on television.
Co-star, Mike Gomez
Rodriguez’s co-star in “The Pitch” is veteran actor Mike Gomez who has had memorable roles in “The Big Lebowsky,” “Heartbreak Ridge,” “The Milagro Beanfield War,” and a regular on TV series, “Hunter.” As a longtime friend and collaborator of Rodriguez, he jumped at the chance to do “The Pitch.” Rodriguez says, “I look up to Mike. Mike is one of the veterans. I am proud to work with someone of his talent, someone who is prepared, someone who is ready to ‘wow’ people with his talent.” He also is happy that Gomez took the chance to be a part of this stage production with a message and noted that some other actors were not as eager to consider taking part in this stage production.
“I’ve been a professional actor and a card-carrying union member for 40 years… a long time in this business,” says Gomez. “When I first came to Hollywood, there were stereotypes.” He saw it all the time, and that’s what was available. He notes roles didn’t reflect the Latino experience in American society and not much has changed. “As an actor that has been in the business, I’ve done a lot of guest starring… but they’re extemporaneous characters not really seen as part of American society. There is a huge void on television that we have to address and this project in its own way is doing that.”
Gomez says, “I am a past vice president of an organization called Nosotros, which was started by Ricardo Montalban back in 1970. That organization was founded with the idea of improving the image of Latinos portrayed on the screen and providing opportunities for Latinos not just on TV… but in front of and behind the camera.” Gomez is well aware that there is so much room for improvement in the entertainment industry for Latino representation.
“’The Pitch’ is a very important project that needs to be seen by as many people as possible because it will raise the awareness,” explains Gomez. He is looking forward to the run of “The Pitch” with Teatro Máscara Mágica that includes a dynamic cast and a director with whom he has a lot of experience, William Virchis.
Pitching 'The Pitch'
Rodriguez finishes by saying, “I am fighting for my children and their children… For them to be more than a cartoon. I want America to reflect America. As far as I’m concerned, there’s no need for Latinos to have a color TV because it’s all black and white. I want to add brown, that’s all I’m saying.”
“The Pitch,” opens 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 7 at the Los Angeles Theater Center, 614 South Spring Street, Los Angeles, CA. Matinees are 2 p.m. Sept. 9th and 10th. General admission prices: $25; Students: $15; Group Rates: $10 (groups over 10). For tickets, call LATC at (866) 811-4111 or 213-489-0994 x 107. Buy tickets online at http://www.thelatc.org.
“Father of Chicano Music” Lalo Guerrero’s music helps frame the productions opening and ending. Guerrero’s music is a perfect fit for “The Pitch” as his corridos told stories about the struggles and triumphs of Mexican-American heroes from Cesar Chavez to Ruben Salazar. He often said, “I only wrote about what I saw.” Opening night will also honor Guerrero’s son, Dan Guerrero as he is inducted into Teatro Máscara Mágica’s, The Artistas de Honor Hall of Fame!
The Cast of “The Pitch”:
Teatro Máscara Mágica
Director: William Virchis
Producer: Jerry Velasco
Paul Rodriguez (Paul)
Mike Gomez (Mike Perez)
John Lopez (P-Rod)
Erika Toraya (Natasha)
Doug Friedman (Mr. Madden)
Paul Lauden (Mr. DeWinters)
Melissa Hamilton (Molly and Holly Twin Executive Secretaries)
Joey Molina (G.D. & Casting Directors, TV Executive)
Walter Murry (Casting Director & Dr. Jennings)
Christina Murguia (P.A. Casting Director & Nurse Tucker)
Paul A (Cameraman, T.V. Executive, Nurse)
Timothy Paul Evans (TV Executive)
B. Anthony (Herold in focus group)
Tamara Rodriguez (Rose the product placement person)
Sky Molina (Understudy)
About Teatro Máscara Mágica (TMM)
Co-founded by William Virchis and Jorge Huerta in 1989 to increase the production of multicultural theatre and to provide professional theatrical opportunities to underrepresented segments of the population. Virchis is the Producing Artistic Director of Teatro Máscara Mágica.