Peralta Community College District's Only Student-Run Publication
Peralta Community College District's only student-run publication.

The Citizen

Peralta Community College District's only student-run publication.

The Citizen

Peralta Community College District's only student-run publication.

The Citizen

    ‘Torres not only teaches the part, he acts the part’

    Michael Torres has been the chair of Laney College’s Theater Arts Program since 2009. 
    His list of accomplishments before attaining that position, however, was already a career in itself. With a near lifetime of stage experience (in one form or another),Torres has acted, written, and directed in so many productions that he himself can’t give an exact number. 
    Torres completed a theater degree at San Francisco State University in 1989 before traveling across Europe in the early 90’s playing roles in Paris, and across Germany . He returned back to California to complete his postgraduate studies at San Diego State in 1992. He is also one of the founding members of Campo Santo, a Latino theater group in the Bay Area.
    The stage-bound trajectory of Michael Torres’s life, however, has been an unlikely one. Born in 1958 in Castro Valley and raised in Hayward, Torres describes his upbringing as “conservative, Catholic, and middle-class.” 
    His father worked as a computer analyst and as a child Torres says that he “thought that I would follow in his footsteps.” Torres’s draw towards acting started early in life after he saw a school production of “Pinocchio” when he was in the 4th grade. Mesmerized by the performance, Torres says he “went into this obsessive state.” 
    One of the actors was the school dishwasher. “I started collecting the other kids’ plates so I would have an excuse to talk to him.” Another was a slightly older child, who Torres tracked down and forced him to re-enact scenes from the play on his front lawn. “The other kids saw us performing,” he said. “I was hooked, I was in love.”
    Despite a mostly happy and secure childhood, Torres was not immune to the ills of racism. His father was Latino, and his mother was white. “People weren’t used to mixed race people back then,” he said. 
    After being teased at school by his mostly white peers, Torres said that his mother found him trying to scrub his olive skin away with soap. When his father learned of this, Torres said that he told him that “you grow up to be a man, not a color.”

    After graduating from high school in Fremont in 1976, Torres embarked on a self-imposed exile that took him away from The Bay Area and due East in what he refers to as his “lost years.” While this period is a cloudy one for Torres he eventually ended up “lost in Oklahoma,” where he was saved by a Christian man named Gideon. 
    After reciting monologues from the Bible with Gideon, Torres joined a traveling Christian Revival group, which toured the South, with Torres performing canonical scenes to flocks of the faithful throughout the Bible-Belt. 
    While Torre’s new-found faith was short lived. “I saw corruption in organized religion . . . people who were more like the people who killed Christ than were like Christ.” 
    The experience provided him a revelation into the semi-mystical power of theater. “I wasn’t finding God — I was finding art . . . art is spiritual,” he said “I enjoyed the experience of transformation.” 
    Returning to the Bay Area in 1983 with a broken heart (his high school sweetheart had married someone else in his absence) yet a sense of renewal, Torres then got serious about his education and career as an actor. 
    Torres’s current project is his performance in Live Oak Theater’s production of “Glengarry Glen Ross.” Torres, however, is reluctant, if not hostile, to answering any questions about his performances. 
    When asked about his current role, he responded bluntly, “It doesn’t matter.” When asked which of his productions he was proudest of he said, “I am always proudest of the one I’m working on.” 
    When asked about the high point of his career, Torres responded by saying, “It’s always the high point.” Torres seems more concerned with his students than anything else “The students are my highs,” he said, “watching them blossom and knowing that they are going to move forward.”
    Indeed, Torres is as concerned with the future of student theater itself as he is his pupils. Despairing over the wave of budget cuts in recent years, he remarked, “They have taken away the arts in California. It’s sad since I have benefited so greatly.” Torres can take solace in the fact, however, that at the very least the Laney’s arts program is still benefiting greatly from him.

    See Play Review

    About the Contributor
    In the fall of 2019, The Laney Tower rebranded as The Citizen and launched a new website. These stories were ported over from the old Laney Tower website, but byline metadata was lost in the port. However, many of these stories credit the authors in the text of the story. Some articles may also suffer from formatting issues. Future archival efforts may fix these issues.  
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