Pride Month: Q&A with Patrick Garcia
By A Noise Within
June 24, 2021
Patrick Garcia is the Director of Performing Arts and Producing Artistic Director at Monrovia High School. He has been on the Board of A Noise Within since 2015 and has done numerous education programs with ANW. Read about his journey and experiences in theater and directing.
How did you get started on your career journey?
I always loved the arts as a kid. I started playing the piano when I was ten. I was involved in high school choir and started doing theatrical productions. When I was in tenth grade, my mother and I went to see in the production of Hello Dolly! and I thought: “These are my people! That’s where I belong.” I remember that epiphany very clearly. I was late to the party and figuring it out.
I started applying to colleges, and I knew I wanted to study music and theatre. When I heard back, I learned you had to audition for the music school separately. I had never studied voice privately. I come from a poor family, and I’m the first one to go to college. My parents had no idea what to do or expect. So, when we got the letter saying I had to sing an Italian art song and an English song, that was a surprise for all of us. For six months, I practiced. Those were the only two classical songs I knew – the ones for my audition.
Have you been in a situation where you lack too much knowledge to even be afraid? I was not nervous because I didn’t know to be. I walked in and shook hands with everybody and made myself at home. I sang my two songs for them. What’s crazy is I had the least experience of anybody in that room. There was someone who had retired from the Met and was joining the voice faculty. All these kids wanted to get her and they said only two freshmen were going to get her. Guess what? I was one of the two freshmen to get her.
She proceeded to eviscerate me because I came knowing nothing. I only knew the two numbers. She was mortified that I had gotten past the gatekeeping system with no experience. She was super hard on me and I was terrified of her, yet I had tremendous respect for her too. In the summer after my freshman year, it was $75 to take voice lessons with her, which was a king’s ransom for my parents. It made my second year so much better though. I got more into dancing and theatre and kept my piano. I graduated with a double degree in music and theatre and a minor in piano. My first job was singing and dancing at an amusement park and then later at a regional theatre in Denver. It was a big deal to be in the twelve positions in the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. There was a snobbery about not using locals, and I couldn’t believe I got it.
I didn’t know how I was going to get out of Denver, but I knew I wanted to. Then someone suggested I sing on a cruise trip. I had number 317 on my shirt and they needed 14 people. I was not the best singer or dancer. Was there something in my eyes that they had to choose me?
Ultimately, I got my credential to be a classical music teacher, then principal, and now director of performing arts for Monrovia Unified School District. When I was in grad school, I got a Fulbright in the UK and I worked with the Royal Shakespeare Company. I raise money – half a million dollars a year – to support the arts in Monrovia and work with the city for community outreach. I’m also the producing artistic director for our theatre, and we produce two professional productions per year. We give our kids a chance to audition to work with industry professionals. They could do lights, singing, dancing, and so on.
What challenges did you face on the way?
I hate to say all this because it’s been talked about before but being Latino in Denver was difficult because I didn’t feel like all my teachers had high expectations for me. My parents did. I did for myself. I did have amazing teachers, but sometimes because of how I looked, there were teachers that didn’t always have high expectations for me.
The other big challenge is that children who grow up with a parent who’s gone to college, there’s an understanding of what goes into the process. When you come from a house where that’s not the case, your first year is like the learning curve is straight up. There were many junctures where I could have given up. I knew if I did, my dreams wouldn’t come true. Coming from working class, I knew education would be my ticket out of Denver and to experience the things I had dreamed and hoped for.
Finances were big. In college when I should have focused on studying, I was driving home to work in Denver on weekends for pocket money and gas for my car. I wouldn’t say things were ideal. They were challenging because I was doing something that hadn’t been done in my family before.
Sometimes people mistook lack of experience for lack of talent. People were singing and dancing since they were four or five. I didn’t have my epiphany until I was sixteen. Others had parents with more financial resources for their kids to attend concerts to develop an understanding of what it’s like to attend or participate in a performance.
How did you find and end up at ANW?
I had always loved ANW because they do high quality theatre. I reached out to ANW because I wanted to give our kids a chance to participate in the theatre process. I was thinking to my own childhood and adolescence, and I wished there was a Patrick Garcia at my high school or middle school to help me attend theatre. I reached out to Alicia Green (Director of Education and Community Programming) and we talked for a long time. We came up with ten-week workshops. Someone from ANW came out to provide kids the opportunities to mirror what was going on in the professional theatre. The kids started doing their own version of King Lear. It gave kids the chance to work with teaching artists and provide tickets to our families and students to see theatre – many for the first time ever.
A couple years later, I told A Noise Within that our high school wanted to perform on the stage when it was dark on a Monday night. Our kids did their version of King Lear at the theatre on the stage with a professional crew. They got to meet the actors and do stuff with them. It was a creative process. My little boy Daniel, who was six or seven at ta time, played Tiny Tim for A Christmas Carol.
I love Julia and Geoff (Producing Artistic Directors). They care about diversity, about people, about being a beacon of light in their community. I believe in their mission. Whenever I have a chance to bring people to the theatre, I bring them. The plays they choose are always timely in terms of recurring themes and things that are happening today. There has never been a production where we didn’t get a coffee after to talk about what occurred onstage. After that communal experience, you can meet with your friends after and talk about it. Theatre even informs how you move forward as a human being. This was happening two hundred years ago, and this play was so poignant for today. What I can I do with that today as a human in Pasadena? It can be illuminating. These last thirteen months have been difficult because I get immense satisfaction to reacting to live theatre together.
How does your personal identity, culture, and history influence your work?
I feel like I’ve had a lot of strong female role models. I work well with strong women and there are a lot of those in education. I guess the other thing is as a gay man, I feel like I am in touch with my feelings and with myself. You don’t have to be gay to be in touch with that kind of thing, but when things don’t come easily to you and you have to work hard for things… There’s an old adage that the safety net doesn’t appear until you step off the platform and start walking on the high wire. I’m thankful and grateful I had the strength and courage to challenge myself and deal with some of the things that have come my way.
Family, friends, and being part of something bigger than myself are all important. Being part of the family of ANW, Monrovia schools, my church, and my community is important. A lot of my gay friends don’t have that. There are a lot of situations where gay men and women feel isolated. I have felt that too. I think that when you are willing to reach out and be a part of things at ANW and build relationships, that’s really important.
A lot of ANW’s board members are a little older, and I bring a perspective to the board that isn’t always seen, so I think that’s helpful. I’ve learned not to be afraid to speak up. In situations like the ones I find myself in sometimes, you’re working with people who have tremendous experience in how to comport themselves in that environment. Me, not so much. As you’re learning those things you have to learn to speak up. It’s easy when you’re new to hang back a lot, but I’ve learned to speak up.
Out of all your accomplishments, what are you most proud of?
Getting the diploma and graduating from college. Two weeks before you graduated, you did your senior recital. Your teachers sit in the front row and decide whether you’re getting your diploma. I did my recital with my friend Judy. We invited everyone we knew because I was first college graduate in the family. I will never forget the buzz in the room. I played a 25-minute piece by myself on stage. I’d practiced two hours a day every day that year, but I was still terrified. When it was over, I felt such euphoria that teachers came and congratulated me. I knew my life would be different that point onward. Opportunities that were not possible for my family would come my way. It felt great because everyone I knew, from the lady who babysat me when I was five, to my dentist, to my grandparents, to my cousins, my old piano teacher from when I was a boy. Everyone came out to support me that night.
My second happiest day was the day that my partner and I adopted my little boy Daniel.
Who is your favorite LGBTQ+ author/playwright/artist? What is your favorite work of theirs?
There are so many. I guess the first that comes to mind is Oscar Wilde. But I need to think about that a little bit. I love Picture of Dorian Gray. I love the Importance of Being Earnest.