A Viennese Fortune Teller Predicted a Life in Theater – Alumni Spotlight José González

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IES Abroad
October 20, 2021
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Meet José González (IES Abroad Vienna 1972-73 | Santa Clara University) Founder and Director of the Miracle Theatre Group (aka Milagro) in Portland, Oregon. During his time abroad in Vienna, José 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. 

IES Abroad: What inspired you to study abroad in Vienna? 

José González (JG): I was born in Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri on an Army base where my father was stationed. Around a year later he was assigned to Stuttgart, Germany. Somewhere I have some memorabilia from the ocean liner that my mom and I traveled on and I still have a set of dog tags that were issued to me.   

I don’t have any memories of that year and a half that we spent there. Everything I know is from my parents and from a picture on our wall.  The picture was of me and a young girl, sitting on a bridge. She was older than me and we were friends. That picture is still in my mind though I haven't seen it in over 50 years.  

My mother told me that when I was there, I could speak German. At least good enough for a two year old. That inspired me to study German while in high school and later in college.   

Somehow, in my sophomore year in college, I discovered the study abroad program and applied. I think I chose Vienna because I was not fluent in German. 

IES Abroad: You are currently the Executive Artistic Director of Teatro Milagro. How was the idea of the theater conceived? 

JG: The idea has its roots in IES Abroad, experiencing my first play, Coriolanus by Shakespeare, at Stratford-upon-Avon during the orientation in England. Following that I saw Othello and Canterbury Tales at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in London, met Edward Albee in Vienna, and read Shakespeare and Tennessee Williams. This was a year of  complete arts and culture immersion, something I had never experienced before—theatre, music, art, literature—bombarded my senses like nothing had before. 

Professor Arnold Keyserling taught philosophy at IES Abroad, emphasizing esoteric and eastern ideas and practice. His wife Wilhemina, taught yoga and was an astrologist. One day our class gathered at their home to have our natal horoscopes drawn. When she read mine, she indicated that I would succeed in the professions of banking or theatre. Both seemed inconceivable at the time. But, as we all know, sometimes the actual comes from the impossible.  

IES Abroad: What is the mission of Teatro Milagro within the Portland community and beyond? 

JG: The Miracle Theatre Group aka Milagro’s mission is to provide extraordinary Latino theatre, culture, and arts education experiences for the enrichment of all communities. The mission is same in Portland as it is throughout the country but how the experiences are delivered is different.  

Milagro has been dedicated to sharing the vibrancy of Latino theatre, culture, and arts education throughout the Northwest and across the country. A home for artists and audiences seeking authentic, Latino cultural experiences, Milagro is a bridge to understanding latinidad and a mirror for those seeking cultural reflection. Through a rich variety of artistic programs, Milagro has given voice to issues affecting the local and national Latino community by: focusing on Latino art and culture in a region that is traditionally non-Latino; creating new work that is bilingual, multidisciplinary, and accessible through touring presentations; supporting the development of new works that feed the American theatre; and providing connection to Spanish and Latin American artists and works through production, exchange, and translation. 

IES Abroad: Did Teatro Milagro pivot during the pandemic? Did you find a way to bring the theater into homes virtually? 

JG: Yes, Milagro pivoted but not always as gracefully as we hoped. We won some and we lost some. However, though our programming success was roughly 50/50 (or less), COVID-19 did give us much to think about. On the one hand it confirmed the value and necessity of in-person programming, why it's so impactful, why it's essential, and what it gives to us.  On the other, it opened new ideas on how to connect with artists and audiences, and, specifically with Milagro, a new way of being what we’re meant to be. 

For our industry, the theatre, virtual production will never replace live programming. The process and technology are more akin to movie production, not live theatre and that’s a whole different ball of wax. However, there are positives. One is the ability to create access to communities and individuals that you may have not been able to reach before. Teatro Milagro, the organization's touring and arts education wing, with virtual programming can now be accessible to audiences throughout the world, both with performances and workshops. That is a definite plus. Additionally, like INGENIO Milagro, the organization's new play and playwright development program, workshops and readings of new work can be done virtually, incorporating creative teams from around the country and reaching geographically diverse audiences as well.  

IES Abroad: How did your time in Vienna shape your career? 

JG: My time in Vienna shaped my career by opening my eyes to different worlds and options. At the time I went, I was thinking I would become a lawyer or an engineer. And so did most of my family. That idea fit with my lower-class background, growing up Mexican American in a barrio in south Texas. Exposure to theatre, opera, art, culture, Frau Doctor Benesch and Count Arnold Keyserling, traveling in the middle east, and so many other new and exciting experiences gave me new perspectives and with that, new choices. That ultimately led me to walk into the Portland Civic Theatre in September of 1975 and ask for a job. I haven’t looked back or regretted my decision since. 

Learn more about studying abroad in Vienna, and check out all of our Alumni Spotlight abd Alum of the Month profiles to see real examples of how study abroad changed the lives and careers of our former students. 

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