Leo Garcia, BFA 1978, Theatre
Leo remembers his first connection to VCU, “When I was in Wakefield High School in Arlington, I competed in state competitions, and Ken Campbell (late former professor of graduate directing) was a judge. I won a best actor award, and Ken remembered my work when I auditioned for the department.”
Leo’s niece Vitoria (Tori) completed a brief stint in the department. She started at VCU in the English Department, but switched to Theatre in her sophomore year, “I really love theatre and I liked the productions I was seeing.” She was cast as Chiffon in The Little Shop of Horrors.
“Little Shop was amazing, because Kikau (Kikau Alvaro, current assistant professor and head of musical theatre) really cared about making sure that it was accurate to the times and he would encourage us to find reason in interaction with the characters.” But she actually ended up back in the English Department after a semester. “I enjoy English and want to be a screenwriter,” something her uncle would also pursue.
Leo had a “single-minded goal”: New York City. He worked locally before he left for NYC, including at Stage Center and The Haymarket. “Richmond was a renaissance city and I had great experiences working in local theatres.” He also singled out recently-deceased alum Randy Strawderman (1971) who choreographed the production of West Side Story that was presented outdoors next to Shafer Street Theatre.” (BTW, fellow alum spotlight Jim Bloch was the lighting designer on that show—see pics in his spotlight!)
His first stop after Richmond was an apprenticeship at Actors Theatre of Louisville, then he worked in several other regional theatres before landing in The Big Apple. He wrote a one-person show about Leopold and Loeb, which got the attention of internationally-acclaimed playwright and director Maria Irene Fornes. She became a lifelong mentor and supporter.
His New York career includes stage work and a gig as host of the TV show, Another American. His agent wanted him to move to LA for more on-camera opportunities. While his career was successful on the West Coast, he eventually tired of TV/film and got back into theatre in the early 90’s at Highways, a performance space described by the Los Angeles Times as “a hub of experimental theater, dance, solo drama and other multimedia performance.”
Leo says, “I wasn’t going to have a BFA and MFA and NOT be in theatre.”
In 2003, he was hired as Artistic Director for Highways and became Executive Director in 2008. He’s also been working on converting his play The Abduction of Hernan Cortes: The New Mexico Cycle to a screenplay. It’s about ten generations of his family history.
Seeing Tori grow up, Leo commented, “She has a perfect singing voice. She was a natural and highly talented.” Vitoria released her first album ‘Borderline’ this year. You can listen here.
Vitoria spent some time finding her path as an artist—after returning to the VCU English department, she was admitted to Point Park’s Conservatory of Performing Arts (obviously musical theater is one of her passions!). She completed a semester there, moved to New Orleans, and then returned to Richmond and VCU to finish her English degree.
In a Facebook post Vitoria mentions theatre professor EB (Head of
Performance Improv and affiliate faculty at the School of Medicine for Applied improv) and the lasting impression EB made on her, “I’m happy that I’ve stopped judging everything that I do and, as Elizabeth
Byland taught me, started saying yes to opportunities that presented
themselves to me. I’ve stopped caring if the path I’m taking is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. I’ve just done what feels best to me.”
Header Image (clockwise from top left): Vitoria on the set of Little Shop of Horrors; Leo smiling; one of Leo’s new works Untitled (House #10) 2020; black and white headshot of Leo; art work from Leo’s exhibition My Alien Abduction 2017; Leo and Vitoria; Vitoria singing in Something Wonderful (VCUarts Theatre and Music concert collaboration, 2019)
Written by Liz Hopper (Emeritus Faculty) and Jerry Williams (BFA ’71) for the September 2020 Theatre Alumni Newsletter