Martha Estrella came of age during the Mission’s cultural revolution, an era when painters, poets and activists transformed the streets with dazzling murals and formed community organizations.
“I’m a Mission girl,” she said. “I’m a product of this neighborhood in the most beautiful way.”
Decades later, she still resides in the neighborhood that cultivated her artistic sensibilities, but now she’s a teacher rather than a student.
Estrella is a drama and multimedia arts instructor at Everett Middle School. For 11 years she has been putting on culturally relevant plays for the school’s diverse student body. On Friday, Nov. 2, she directed students in “Marcadia,” a Día de los Muertos-themed play performed for the entire student body.
Adapted from the classic 1940s film of the same name, the play explores important themes that loom large in Día de los Muertos, including the celebration of death and acceptance of life.
“I saw the movie at Galeria de la Raza,” said Estrella. “I loved it and remember thinking, how can I apply this for Day of the Dead?”
So she recruited three classes of sixth- and seventh-graders to perform in “Marcadia,” with Everett flourishes. Students rewrote parts of the play, adding contemporary pop culture references (yes, that means name-dropping Katy Perry and the iPhone 5), choreographed original dances, and even produced a musical soundtrack in GarageBand. Her seventh- and eighth-grade multimedia classes produced the scenery, which includes glittering life-size Dia de los Muertos skulls, featured in the photos above.
During rehearsals, Estrella and the students discussed the origins of Day of the Dead and ways to apply the holiday’s lessons to their own lives.
“Death is part of the cycle of life,” said Estrella. “I wanted to broaden their sense that not everything is a happy ending, but to accept those things that are inevitable in life and to appreciate life.”
Born and raised in the Mission, Estrella directs shows that reflect the neighborhood’s rich cultural makeup. Currently she is working with Everett students on a play about the African diaspora and its artistic influence worldwide. She’s also directing a play about the immigration experience, drawing on anonymous interviews with Everett students about their own immigration stories.
“I try to do plays about the people, and for the people,” she said. “I try to select things that are close to them and meaningful and real.”