How Study Abroad Inspired a Career in Theatre: Alum & Milagro Theatre Group Founder Jose Gonzalez

Meet Jose Gonzalez (IES Abroad Vienna 1972-73), Founder and Director of the Miracle Theatre Group (aka Milagro) in Portland, Oregon, and our May Alum of the Month.

During his IES Abroad Vienna orientation, Jose saw his first theatre performance—a Shakespeare production in Stratford-upon-Avon that was life-changing. Studying abroad in Vienna and traveling throughout Western Europe and the Middle East (to as far as Kabul, Afghanistan!) inspired Jose’s passion for theatre. After completing a Master’s of Fine Arts degree in Theatre Arts, Jose founded of one of the most successful Latino theatre companies in the United States. Read on to find out how study abroad inspired him and how meaningful classes, professors, and experiences abroad changed the way he looks at life.

IES Abroad: As a student at Santa Clara University, how did you choose to study abroad in Vienna for a full year?

Jose Gonzalez: Initially, my desire to study abroad in Europe came from the fact that I lived in Stuttgart, Germany, for approximately one and a half years as a child. My father was stationed there, my sister was born there, and my mother always said that I spoke German.

In high school, I studied German and continued taking German classes in college at Santa Clara. Sometime in my sophomore year, I found out about the study abroad program. I applied and was accepted. Given my family history, I should have gone to a program in Germany, but for some reason, I chose Vienna instead. To this day, I can’t tell you why, but what I can say is that I’ve never regretted my decision.

IES Abroad: Thinking back on your year of study abroad in Vienna, what are some of your most significant memories?

JG: I have so many fond memories that prioritizing them as significant would be challenging. In Oxford, I remember walking in a field with George Mackie and him asking me to be his roommate. I am so glad that he did. We shared many adventures together, including traveling to Turkey, Iran, and Afghanistan, and we are still friends today.

I remember seeing my first play Coriolanus at Stratford-upon-Avon, the home of Shakespeare. Little did I know that I would later find a career in the theatre. I remember Frau Dr. Benesch, the art and culture tour we took from London to Vienna, wonderful Paris, beaujolais, fromage, jambon, and endless museums and churches, filled with art, history, and wonderment.

I remember living on Stoβ im Himmel (Kick in Heaven) in Vienna’s center ring on the fourth floor of what once was a convent. From the large, coal-heated room in our flat, we could see the spire of the 12th century Catholic Church, Maria am Gestade. Down the corner on Wipplinger Strasse was the Alter Rathauskeller - our hangout, our neighborhood pub. George and I often had a glass of beer or wine there and ate endless bowls of bohnen suppe (bean soup) or Hungarian goulash. Once in a blue moon, we’d splurge with Wiener schnitzel and share a toast with a senior citizen regular who always had a “sleeping drink” of wine.

And, yes, I remember falling in love several times - the joy and the pain of disappointment. For me, that year in Europe and Wien was the best of times.

IES Abroad: Can you point to specific skillsets that you built upon or developed while studying abroad in Vienna?

JG: There were three major influences that shaped my life and career. The first was seeing my first play. The second was encountering that irresistible force - Frau Dr. Benesch and studying art history. The third was being a student of Count Arnold Keyserling in his class on Eastern and Western Philosophy. These weren’t skillsets but life-influencing experiences that changed the way I perceived both the world around me and my place in it.

IES Abroad: What led you to pursue a Master’s degree in fine arts at UCLA?

JG: After returning from Vienna and graduating from Santa Clara, I decided to pursue a career in the theatre. I began at the bottom figuratively and literally as a lowly “know nothing” carpenter working in the basement of the Portland Civic Theatre. Everything that I had experienced in that momentous year abroad came to bear in my chosen profession and helped shape my development as a theatrical artist and now administrator. After 10 years working in Oregon, Wisconsin, and Texas (where I ran my own scenic company), I decided to advance my career by attending graduate school at UCLA in 1982, receiving my MFA in Theatre Arts in 1984.

IES Abroad: For 33 years the Milagro Theatre has created bilingual productions, cultural events, and arts festivals that enrich the Greater Portland community. The theatre also boasts a professional national touring company. How did studying abroad in Vienna and your related travel during that year impact your important work over the decades with Milagro?

JG: My year in Europe and Wien was where I awakened to my calling—the theatre. It was there that I saw my first play - Coriolanus by the world’s greatest playwright William Shakespeare and in his home town. It was also there I met Edward Albee, saw my first opera, Otello, read Shakespeare and Tennessee Williams, and visited Greece, the font of Western thought and theatre. These experiences and more opened the door to my career. As I progressed, my studies in philosophy, art history, psychology, and more coalesced into a weltanschauung that supported my creative endeavors and made them meaningful in ways that I can’t fully express.

Another factor that can’t be denied was how my study abroad facilitated engagement with diverse people and cultures, both in our IES Abroad community of students and faculty and in the different countries where we lived and traveled. Vienna sits at the crossroads between east and west, and is a microcosm of diverse cultural engagement. To a great extent, my work in the theatre addresses this issue and the identity of people from diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds. It confronts how we perceive and react to “otherness” and the inherent value and dignity of all people, regardless of their race, ethnicity, or spiritual views.

IES Abroad: Foreign language study in the United States has decreased over the past few years. In terms of career planning, how important is it for English speakers to learn a foreign language?

JG: Our experience has become more and more globalized. With advances in technology that enable speedy communication and travel, the facility to interface with others from foreign lands in their own language becomes more and more important. I think language is also a gateway to understanding. It is not just a means to deliver facts and information but transmission of sense and meaning.

IES Abroad: What advice would you give to college students today who would like to become the global leaders of tomorrow?

JG: I would advise them not to think too much about being “leaders” but rather focus on being good and true. I take this from what Professor Keyserling told me long ago in Vienna: “A leader is chosen.”

How will study abroad prepare you to be a global leader of tomorrow? Discover our study abroad in Vienna programs and embark on the international adventure of a lifetime.

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