In ‘La Miguelito,’ a street artist’s murder mirrors Bay Area gentrification

person on stage holding up hand in "stop"

Daniela Cervantes as “La Miguelito” (UC Berkeley photo by Ben Dillon)

When Daniela Cervantes first heard about the play, Who Shot la Miguelito?, presented by the Department of Theater, Dance and Performance Studies, she knew she had to be a part of it.

“As a person of color, I wanted to be involved in a production that uplifts the voices that belong to people who look like me, who are stereotyped the way that I’m stereotyped,” says Cervantes, a third-year student majoring in ethnic studies, with a minor in theater and performance studies. “I wanted to bring those voices to a platform where they could be heard.”

director Sean San Jose giving a talk

Director Sean San José in conversation with Margo Hall, a lecturer in theater, dance and performance studies (UC Berkeley photo by Ben Dillon)

Who Shot la Miguelito?, written and directed by Sean San José, who grew up in San Francisco’s Mission District and co-founded the theater company, Campo Santo, tells a story about the murder of a young street artist, la Miguelito, in the Mission District — a story that parallels the death of immigrant, working-class neighborhoods.

“This piece is inspired by street art, our gentrifying neighborhoods and the power of the people to remember,” says San José. “It explores the changing of our cities, the covering up of cultures and the silencing of voices through the viewfinder of street art in the Mission District.”

actors on stage — group in a circle, one woman standing by herself

Rose Escolano (left) as “Eklectic” (UC Berkeley photo by Ben Dillon)

actors on stage

Crystal Haryanto (left) as “Sapphire Blue,” Abner Lozano (back center) as “Lolito,” Anna Sharpe (front center) as “Noktolonel,” and Geovany Calderon (right) as “Coco Cocoa” (UC Berkeley photo by Ben Dillon)

To build a foundation of trust among the 15 cast members, San José took a week before rehearsals for the students to share their histories, families and identities with one another.

Cervantes, who plays la Miguelito, says the play gave her a unique opportunity to embody a character who mirrors many of her own identities.

“La Miguelito, just to begin with, is nonbinary, queer, a young creative, and I hold those identities as well,” says Cervantes. “I’m a Latina person who is just getting back into theater, exploring all of my creative outlets. I hold the same kind of enthusiastic outlook on the world.”

actor wearing beautiful outfit standing in middle of stage

Janette Keola as “La Virgen” (UC Berkeley photo by Ben Dillon)

Growing up in Greenfield, a rural community in the Salinas Valley, Cervantes says she didn’t see firsthand how gentrification affected communities that looked like her own. And although she’s learned about the effects of gentrification in her ethnic studies courses, she says it was the play that has helped her better understand the human side of the issue.

“Being in this play and seeing the grief that gentrification causes … has added another dimension to my scholarly work,” she says. “In how I approach the subject as a person of color, and how I can relate to, and be in solidarity with, people who look like me, but grew up in different situations than I did.”

Who Shot la Miguelito? runs through Sunday, Oct. 20, at the Zellerbach Playhouse on campus. Tickets are $13-$20 and can be purchased online or at the door. The show runs 1 hour 15 minutes with no intermission.

To learn more about Who Shot la Miguelito?, and to buy tickets, visit the Department of Theater, Dance and Performance Studies website.

actors on stage — one person holding another person's face

Anna Sharpe as “Noktolonel” (UC Berkeley photo by Ben Dillon)