American Jornalero: Q&A with Director Tioni Collins

Before American Jornalero started rehearsals for its West Coast Premiere, we asked Tioni Collins a few questions about directing the West Coast Premiere of Ed Cardona Jr.'s vivid portrait of day laborers.

What inspired you to take on American Jornalero? What ideas are you most excited about?

Drive by any Home Depot and you will see day laborers vying for the attention of contractors there to pick up supplies, tools and (hopefully) an extra hand – their lives as undocumented as their immigration status. In a world increasingly defined by ‘us’ and ‘them’, they are the quintessential ‘them’.

American Jornalero seeks to change that by taking a peek into the daily lives of these day laborers.  In doing so, it illuminates our common humanity and asks even the most anti-immigrant among ‘us’ to question the assumptions upon which such walls have been built.

What’s the most surprising thing you’ve discovered so far while working on this piece?

My own willful ignorance of the harsh realities faced by undocumented day laborers and the extent to which our collective ignorance and apathy created space that has been exploited all too easily in the form of fear mongering.

What one thing should an audience should know about this piece before seeing it?

Be prepared to confront your own complicity.

How would you describe your work, or point of view as an artist, in one sentence?

Theater and art are ultimately about sense-making, that process though which all of us give meaning to our collective experiences.

Tell us about a piece of theater that has had a significant impact on you.

Often, as a director, I tend to watch the work of others with a more technical and critical eye than the average audience member. While watching a show, I look at what works, what doesn’t and how I, given the chance, would do it differently.

This summer, I had the gift of seeing Cal Shakes’ version of Marcus Gardley’s Black Odyssey. It was one of the most powerful pieces of theater that I have ever experienced. It reminded me of why I first fell in love with theater. With every piece do, it is always my goal to achieve what that cast, crew and production team did. They created a world that was so complete that the audience has no choice but to become part of the experience. I left the theater a changed person and a better director.

American Jornalero plays April 13–May 6 at 2000 Mandela Parkway, Oakland.
For more info and tickets, visit