Cornerstone Theater Company


Weedpatch: The beginning of a 3000 mile journey


The view from Highway 58 coming in to Arvin. Photo by Ashley Sparks

Amid the dusty vineyards at the foothills of the San Joaquin Valley is a heartline of the California mythology. The setting of John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, is now where Cornerstone begins our own migratory journey. In a small town called Weedpatch, we are kicking off a tour that will cover over 3000 California miles. The historic Sunset School is our host for the national premiere of California: The Tempest. Weedpatch and its neighboring communities of Arvin and Lamont are the first stop on our 10-community tour bridging 10 years of our Institute Summer Residency program.


Students get a tour of the set in process of being built in the gym at Sunset School. Photo by Ashley Sparks.

“What does it mean to be Californian?“ is a primary question we’ve been asking people while we traveled across the state collecting stories for our adaptation of Shakepeare’s The Tempest. There is a wide range of answers. But, when you take Bear Mountain Blvd. out of Arvin through the winding curves of the nearby mountains, there is an overlook with one large solitary boulder. From that point you see it – a land of possibility. The checkerboard picture of potential, that thousands during the Dust Bowl Migration saw as they came in search of work and a better life. Perhaps, being Californian means inherently believing that a better life is possible?

“Migration happens when there is a need. In the dustbowl era there was a need. It’s very similar now.” Gene Lundquist.


Gene Lundquist, right, performing in Flor (2012). Photo by Kevin Michael Campbell.

Gene is a proud alumni of the Sunset School, was a local cast member of our Institute show Flor in 2012 and is now performing in California: The Tempest. He holds extensive historical knowledge and speaks eloquently about the changes in the area. Arvin, Weedpatch, and Lamont have undergone a significant demographic shift in the past 40 years as Latino immigrants have come to make a better life. There are parallel stories of long difficult journeys that land in Weedpatch. The intersections between history and the present are visible at 6am when folks are starting their workday in the fields.


Sunset School in Weedpatch, CA.

This isn’t your typical venue…
In 1934 the Sunset School was established to educate the children of migrants, because the Vineland school, one-mile down the road, wouldn’t let them enroll. The students at the Sunset School had a unique and hands-on education that including building their own swimming pool, having class inside an airplane, and young girls learning how to make their own cosmetics! They had the “best of the best” when it came to committed and innovative teachers.

We are asking, “What does it mean to be Californian?” on the grounds of a place built by and for migrant hands. Installing the set this week at the Sunset School has been one of those surreal times of creating theater magic. Simultaneous to constructing platforms and rigging lights, we’ve been working with students to create maps for the future of their town. In the spirit of possibility we are dreaming the future of Weedpatch – which one group of students renamed “Loveville – a place accepting of all different types of people.”


Students at Sunset School create an army base full of unicorns and everyone is accepted in their future community of Loveville. Photos by Ashley Sparks.

Cornerstone is starting our 3000-mile Bridge Tour journey here. It is an audacious, brave, and bold spirit that makes a journey in search of a better life – or goes in search of the stories that bind us as Californians together. We have packed our magic, faith, gaff tape, and hours of road trip soundtracks and set off. The story of The Tempest asks us to imagine: If a major disaster happened and we have to start all over and rebuild our state, what will it look like? Maybe it’s here in Weedpatch, that we will find the answer. We invite you to channel you inner road trip warrior, make your best California soundtrack, and join us as we make a theater history happen, your future might just depend on it.

This blog was written by Ashley Sparks, Cornerstone’s Community Partnerships Associate. Experience California: The Tempest in Arvin, Lamont & Weedpatch! September 4 – 6, 2014. Click here for more information.