The Art in His Heart

When Engelbert Peraza strolled across the stage at California State University, Fullerton, his colleagues and friends chanted, “Engelbert! Engelbert!” as he smiled and accepted the award.

Peraza designed the set and scenery for Pierce College’s production play “Our Town.” He was awarded the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival (KCACTF) Heart of the Art award, the first Pierce student in 52 years.

“I felt like I finally accomplished something,” Peraza said. “[It was] like a dream come true, and there is still more to come.”

Performing Arts Chair Michael Gend sat next to Peraza as they called his name for the award. Gend said he felt nervous seeing his students competing in the festival and felt a sense of relief when Peraza was called to the stage.

“Seeing the joy in his face made it worth being a teacher at that moment,” Gend said.

Finalists had to make a presentation of their designs and explain to the KCACTF judges why they deserved the award. Gend said Peraza’s presentation was more laid back, and he brought a sense of humor that caught the judges’ attention and reminded them of why they became artists.

“There’s a lot of people who treat the presentation like a job interview,” Gend said. “Engelbert was anything but that. He was very human and joked about the process.”

Peraza’s favorite part of his design for “Our Town” was the two yellow staircases that were placed on wheels, allowing flexibility for their use.

“The stairs were my heart because you could use them to create any environment,” Peraza said.

Peraza first came to the college in 2012 with aspirations of becoming an actor and explored everything the theater program had to offer.

“I was 23 at the time, and I just didn’t know what I wanted to do,” Peraza said. “I started taking technical theater classes, and it opened my mind to more.”

Peraza said he eventually fell in love with set and scenery design.

“My professors allowed me to figure out my passion,” Peraza said. “They gave me the opportunity to work on ‘Our Town’ last year, and it was the most fun experience ever.”

Peraza’s creativity and passion for scenic design have a lasting and positive effect on his peers, said classmate Brandon Schumacher.

Schumacher said he is inspired by Peraza’s passion for art.

“I was very proud and happy for him to come this far and get something out of it,” Schumacher said.

Gend said he hopes to see Peraza continue his love for theatre and share the knowledge he has gained at Pierce College.

“My hope is that Engelbert pays it forward and teaches somebody everything we taught him here one day,” Gend said.

Peraza said he wishes to set an example for anyone coping with a disability and show that anyone can achieve anything.

“I always wanted to be a spokesperson for others that can’t speak,” Peraza said, “I want to be inspiring for them one day.”