Cornerstone Theater Company


Winston Rocha: At Home in San Pedro

One of the many pleasures awaiting audiences who come to see Pedro Play is the chance to see Winston Rocha onstage again. This celebrated stage, television and film actor last appeared in a Cornerstone production back in 2004, when he played Old Victorio in our first Summer Institute production: Waking Up in Lost Hills by Jose Cruz Gonzalez.  A longtime San Pedro resident, Winston is playing Apa in Pedro Play. We’re honored to have him back with us, helping to tell the story of the wonderful LA neighborhood that he calls home.

How did your San Pedro story begin?

San Pedro is where we came to when we came from Nicaragua.  We flew into LAX, and it was like 1 o’clock in the morning on January 1, 1959. Castro took over Cuba that day—I’ll always remember that.  I was 12 years old. My uncle was a merchant seaman and he had brought my Dad to San Pedro in 1957. There were six of us, plus my grandma, plus my cousins. My Dad worked his ass off right here in the shipyards. I’ll always remember the sacrifices my Dad made.

What was it like to be a kid in 1960’s San Pedro?

You know the Vincent Thomas Bridge? The green one? Right there where it ends is where we moved to. This was long before they built it. I remember there was a big sand dune there where we would play and have so much fun.  Then they started building and they threw us all out. Displaced, you know? Summertime was fun: the beach, the pretty girls in bikinis, the parties, Catalina. San Pedro was a fun place to come to, and at that time it wasn’t nearly as expensive as it is now.  Now it’s just ridiculous.

When I first came I went to junior high school. The girls liked me. I wanted to fit in, so I hung out with Chicanos. A lot of people I met here were from Mexico and we got close right away because we could only talk to each other.  I didn’t speak a word of English when I got here.  In Nicaragua you didn’t see racism like here. I remember one experience when my friends and I—they were from Mexico—were on the bus. We were going to the beach and we were talking in the back of the bus. The bus driver pulled the bus over, stopped right in the middle of the street, threw us off the bus because we were talking Spanish. So I’ve seen a little bit of racism used against me. To be honest with you though, I don’t think those negative experiences have had any effect on my life. I don’t let them.

How did you begin your acting career?

I lived in San Pedro until 1970 when I moved to Colorado. I first studied theatre at the University of Nebraska. I just needed one more class to fulfill my full-time student status. I looked and looked until finally I saw “Introduction to Theatre” and I said “That’s what I want!”That’s where I caught the bug. I fell in love immediately and I knew right away that there was nothing else I wanted to do with my life.

I couldn’t handle the weather in Nebraska, 75 degrees below zero?  Bro, that’s cold!  From there, I went to Washington State, where I enrolled at Cornish College of the Arts. You remember that old television show about a school for music, art, and theatre?  Fame, that was the name!  It was kind of like that. Nothing but people who were artists, and I immersed myself in all that. I ended up graduating with a BFA and traveling all over the U.S. doing shows in prisons.

What kinds of shows were you doing in prisons?

It was with a company called Geese Theatre Company. We went to prisons all over, and it was probably the most meaningful work I’ve ever done.  We did several different plays, geared toward the particular population of each prison. We had a show for people ready for parole, and one for people who just got sentenced. We had a show for women, and one for youth.  The way the shows were structured, they were mostly improvisation, within certain parameters.

I’ll give you one example of why I say it was meaningful work. One time I did a show in Georgia, for prisoners who were going to be there for a long time. I remember after we finished the show and took a bow, I see this brother about 6’5” 280 pounds, walking toward me. He looked like a lineman for the NFL and I thought “Oh man I might be in trouble here.” But when he got to me he gave me a big hug. The show we had done was about an incarcerated man—my character—who gets a visit from his wife after he’s been in for a couple of years. And she’s pregnant. We handled that difficult subject with positivity and humor. And this guy says to me “I wish you had been here 3 weeks ago, because I had that same exact experience and I handled it…much differently.” It was that kind of instant feedback that made it very worthwhile.

Winston Rocha in Waking Up in Lost Hills by Jose Cruz Gonzalez, 2004.

Where did your acting career take you after that?

I moved back to LA and did my Hollywood thing. I got lucky. Bob Egan called me in and gave me a part at the Mark Taper Forum. It was an Ariel Dorfman play called Widows, and it took place in Chile.  It was about all the disappeared men and the women who were the subject of the show. I only had a little part, one little scene sitting in a hot tub wearing…what do you call them? Speedos! I would never wear Speedos, man. Funny thing is that when people talk about that play, they remember that scene! I did three more shows at the Taper and did a show at South Coast Rep, then a few shows back in Seattle with the Group Theatre while I was still based in LA. I booked a couple of series, a lot of episodic TV—Seinfeld, Everybody Loves Raymond—some film work, some movies of the week. In TV work you get so spoiled. Someone’s always looking after your makeup, your hair, “Mr. Rocha, can I get you something to eat?”  It was fun! The last thing I did in Hollywood was a movie with Eddie Murphy called A Thousand Words.

Tell us about your character Apa in Pedro Play.

I feel a connection to this character because he’s a lot like me. He’s here not by choice. Our well-meaning parents brought us here because this was supposed to be a place where everything was better. But that wasn’t my experience, and it wasn’t his experience. He says: “I don’t want to be here anymore. I want to go home.” I’ve been here for almost 65 years, and I still think about going back to Nicaragua, living out my days there, with my people, eating the most amazing food. This is not bragging—it’s a fact: Nicaraguans make the best freakin’ food there is.  You’ve never tasted carnitas or tamales til you’ve tasted the way they make them in Nicaragua.

What do you want people to know about your San Pedro and your Pedro Play experience?

I love it here. San Pedro has always been my anchor, no matter where I went, and I’ve lived all over this country.  If there’s any place I consider home—or close to home—it’s San Pedro. I always come back. Like it says in the play, we always come back. There’s a lot of friendly people here.  I love being close to the ocean. The canneries, the smell of the fish—all of those things are kind of dear to me.

The script makes such a strong connection to all these places that I’m familiar with. Time seems to be fluid in this play. The whole thing has been wonderful in the ways people help me out.  I got a text from Juliette and she said the company was willing to do some of the extra things I need help with to make it happen.  So here I am. I’m grateful.

Rehearsals for Waking Up in Lost Hills, 2004.

Don’t miss seeing Winston onstage in the role of “Apa” in Pedro Play! October 19 & 20 at 8PM, and October 21 at 2PM & 8PM at the Warner Grand Theatre, 478 W 6th St, San Pedro, CA 90731.

Visit our Eventbrite page HERE to reserve your Pay-What-You-Can tickets with a suggested donation $20, but any amount is appreciated. No one turned away for lack of funds.

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