William Alexander Virchis (Bill) was born Guillermo Alejandro Virchis de Olvera in 1944, Mexico City.
His father was Roman Joseph Virchis, born in Mexico City in 1918.
Roman’s father was Austrian by heritage and his mother was Spanish.
When Roman was very young, the family moved to New York City. Roman’s father worked in the Jewish garment district and so the family lived as one of the first Mexicans within a predominantly Puerto Rican community.
Roman was also an accomplished athlete, playing baseball with such people like Al Campanis. He was also a Golden Glove boxing champion. He graduated from New York University during a time when very few Latinos went to college. Roman did quite well for the family, becoming an executive for Aeronaves de Mexico at the age of thirty-five. Some of his close friends and colleagues were Miguel Aleman (President of Mexico), Lopez Mateos (President of Mexico), George Raft (Actor), John “Duke” Wayne (Actor), Jayne Mansfield (Actress), Danny Kay (Actor), Bing Crosby (actor/singer), Hal Fisher (Hollywood Producer), Hal Wallis (Hollywood Producer), Enrique Morones Sr. (Airline Executive), to name a few. Eventually he was a partner in the Hotel Los Cocos in La Paz.
Bill Virchis’ mother was Margarita Olivera and she was of Indigenous heritage.
Margarita’s mother, Virginia, was born in Puebla, Mexico, and her father, Manuel, was born in Mexico City. Margarita’s mother (Bill’s grandmother) spoke Nahuatl. She was also a revolutionist and told Bill that the Villistas almost hung her because she was a Zapatista.
Margarita was raised in a Convent/Catholic School, Los Celisianos (Patron Saint Cecila) and learned three languages. As a young woman she was an accomplished photographer and a well known poet.
Virchis Family in Mexico City
When Roman returned to Mexico City as an adult, he met Margarita while she was doing a reading in a Theater. Roman fell instantly in love with her. He remained in Mexico City for the next two years in order to woo her. However, Margartia didn’t like him. After all, he was German and Spanish, reminding her too much of the conquistadors. Furthermore, she was going to become a nun. Eventually, however, Roman won her over and they married.
The family remained in Mexico City and Roman, a pilot, started working for Lansa Airlines which became Aeronaves de Mexico. As a hobby he also was a crop duster, but he quit that job because he knew that the chemicals were affecting the farmworkers.
Roman and Margarita had three children: Ricardo Martin, Bill and Martha. Bill, however, spent the first five years of his life in the hospital because he had a condition that went beyond club foot where both his feet were turned inward so that he was unable to walk. Most of the time, his maternal grandmother stayed with him. He had over 52 operations on each foot up to the time he was five. His mother actually named him after the doctor who was determined to have Bill walk: Guillermo Alejandro Sinbron.
They Came To America in 1951
Roman knew four languages and when he became an airline manager of Aeronaves de Mexico (the government owned airline) he was told to go to the United States, since he spoke English so well. He became the District Sales Manager of the United States.
The family moved when Bill was six years old in 1951. At that time, nobody could pronounce ‘Guillermo,’ so his father changed Bill’s name to William. Ricardo his brother did not change his name because a popular television star in the I Love Lucy series was named Ricky Ricardo.
As Bill explains, “We landed in Tijuana because we had to get the family’s immigration papers. My father already had all his papers. So what happened was the destination for the Virchis clan was Los Angeles because he had an office there and he said that there were more Mexicans there than anywhere else in the United States. My father had offices in San Francisco, San Diego as well as Los Angeles. Back at the rancho, we stayed at Tijuana for 6 months waiting for our immigration papers and visas. There’s a ritual that you bless your new cars. Since we had a new Plymouth we stopped at St. Rose Lima in Chula Vista on our way to L.A.. My mother saw a house for rent across the street — 336 H Street. Mother said, “I’m staying here and you’re going to L.A. So we lived in Chula Vista and my dad commuted to L.A. for 30 years”.
Bill Growing Up in Chula Vista
Bill grew up speaking Spanish in the home and English in school. He went to F Street Elementary School (which shut down and now the Chula Vista Public Library stands in its place). He then attended Chula Vista Junior High and Chula Vista High School.
Bill remembers that the family always went to Tijuana in order to shop, in particular for fresh food. They didn’t grow up eating any canned or boxed food. He remembers in the 1950’s there were only three custom officers that stood at the border waving people across.
Bill describes himself as having been a very over-active child. He also didn’t see himself as a particularly good student. When he was a young boy, he sold newspapers, shined shoes, mowed lawns, and worked at Bill’s Drive In on E Street. He was a dishwasher for the first Jimmy’s Restaurant in Chula Vista and he won the talent contest for the well-known Fiesta de la Luna, imitating stars like Jimmy Durante; this is when his stage life began.
His professional theatrical period began at the old globe theatre with his mentor director Craig Noel. He also was in the first acting studio school, with renowned director Thor Svenson. At Chula Vista High School he was the first three year cheerleader and a three time varsity letterman in wrestling, and voted the “Class Wit and Humor.”
Rock’n Roll Band, Mime Performer, Educator
After high school, he became a ‘traveling man’. He was a member of a Rock‘n Roll band called “The Men”. The members of the band included some stellar musicians, Jerry Abramson, Buck Buchanan Jr. (son of the famous television and movie star Edgar Buchanan) and Tim Williams. Their A.N.R. Man (Artist Manager) was Robert Marcucci, one of the most famous A.N.R Man in Hollywood at that time. As a musician and song writer Bill wrote the theme song for the first 1000 Mile Baja Off Road Race for Norra.
He attended Southwestern College in 1962, which at that time was held on the campus of Chula Vista High School. He was one of the first cheerleaders at Southwestern College and on the first wrestling team. As a wanderer, however, he went to several colleges, including Valley College in Los Angeles. He also held many different jobs, including at the Jack-in-the-Box on 3rd & K when he was a teenager and became the first Jack-in- the-Box clown. He also worked for the Food Maker Company, which owned Jack-in- the-Box at that time, working as a Roving Trainer and Timer. During his Jr. College career he worked for Ed Benjamin and Son’s Jewelry where he sold fine jewelry.
He began to study at San Diego State University and by 1972 graduated with a Master’s in Theater Arts and Related Technologies Degree. He also focused studies on Spanish Literature and Psychology. “I always thought theater was a behavioral science, and I wanted to be a psychiatrist but found out that a psychiatrist was a Doctor and would have to be at school eight more years.” Along the way he became a Mime and studied under the World Famous Marcel Marceau. Bill met Marceau at the University of Michigan where he was doing a summer internship.
He began working as a drama teacher at Chula Vista High School where he directed many award winnings plays, among them “Angel Baby” which was the first production of what later became known as “Grease.” He directed “Annie Get Your Gun” at Bonita Vista High School, which was the first All District Summer Musical Program in the history of the District. Over one hundred students were involved. James Cusak, who was known as the Music Man was the Producer and Conductor, Fred James (Set Designer and Construction) and Paul Schmidt (string specialist). Bill was voted Teacher of the Year his first year of teaching at Chula Vista High School.
In the world of sports Bill was a champion wrestler at the High School and College level and has been a Wrestling Coach where he has had several championship and individual champions and state qualifiers, and has been associated with some of the Hall of Fame Coaches, Art Stone, Gabe Ruiz, Dale Siscone, Bob Anderson, and Troy Vierra. One of his notable stars in wrestling and acting is Mario Lopez, of television and screen fame. Bill was hired at Southwestern College in 1971 as a Professor and Artistic Director of the Theatre Department, a position he held for 31 years until his retirement.
In his tenure Bill has directed over 150 plays including 30 World College Premiers and eight American Theatre Regional Finalist productions. The Southwestern Drama Department was recognized internationally as a model of College Curriculum.
After retirement, he was hired as the first District Visual and Preforming Arts Director by the Sweetwater Union High School District (V.A.P.A.). During his tenure at V.A.P.A. he helped established the world’s largest Mariachi and Folklorico high school programs in the world. One of the highest honors in his life was the re-naming of the V.A.P.A. Department to The William A. Virchis Visual and Performing Arts Department the first and only department named after a former employee.
Some call William “Bill” Virchis “one of the founding fathers of Chicano Theatre in San Diego.” He has impacted many students, teachers, journalists and visual arts professionals on and off the stage.
Pioneering Work As A Chicano Artist
Bill’s pioneering work began with his exposer to Teatro Campesino, founded by Luis and Daniel Valdez in the 1960’s. His work in the Chicano and Spanish Theatre has been a through-line throughout his life. His trajectory encompasses Spanish Golden Age Theatre, Mexican Theatre, Latino Theatre, Chicano Theatre, South American Literature and American Latino plays.
Some of his work has been with world renown authors such as Edwardo Gallardo, and his play Fantasma (was the first play that dealt with AIDS in the Latino community), and the National Tour Selena Forever, Josefina Lopez’ plays (i.e. Real Women Have Curves, Confession of Women of East L.A. , Simply Maria, Trio Ticos, Detained in the Desert). Carlos Morton, Child Diego, The Miser of Mexico, The Many Deaths of Richard Morales, Brown Buffalo, The Golden Ones. Luis Valdez’ Zoot Suit, Bandidos and all of his Actos (One Acts). Daniel Valdez’ Ollin, Rene Marquez’ Los Solos Truncos, Raul Moncada’s La Pastorela, Max Branscomb’s La Pastorela and Journey of the Skeletons, Garcia Lorca’s Blood Wedding (directed at San Diego State University presented in English and Spanish), the Spanish version was sold out in one day. Paul Rodriguez’ The Pitch and Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple (First Latino version) are among the many that has been directed. In the 1990’s Bill adapted the musical Paint Your Wagon for the Star Light Musical Theatre to reflect the true Mexican influence of the character Julio.
In the 1980’s Bill, Craig Noel and Jorge Hureta, founded the first bi-lingual, bi-cultural theatre wing in any regional theatre at the Old Globe Theatre called Teatro Meta. Its first production, Over Easy was the first Chiano play that dealt with the San Diego Historical Barrio Logan.
Also in 1989 Bill and Jorge Hureta, PhD. co-founded Teatro Máscara Mágica (TMM). TMM was founded to increase the production of multicultural theatre and to provide professional theatrical opportunities to underrepresented segments of the population. Another mission of the Teatro was to subsidize ticket prices to make live theatre affordable to families and the less affluent. La Pastorela has been the longest theatrical tradition in Southern California for over 28 year. Bill has brought professional productions to high schools, (i.e. Ellena, written by Luis and Charles Aragon, The musical Let the Eagle Fly: the Cesar E. Chavez Story, authored by John Reeger, music and lyrics by Julie Shannon.
Bill has received and has been recognized with over 250 international, national and local awards and proclamations. He has been inducted in five Hall of Fames, in 2016 he received Roberto Martinez Spirit Award presented by the Enrique Morones and the Border Angels, for his commitment and activism in the Latino community for over 50 years, and the Consulate General of Mexico recognized him as one of 22 of the most influential Mexicans in the history of San Diego.
Mr. Virchis C.E.O. of Virco Enterprises Production Company has been instrumental in presenting the first Mariachi Festivals in San Diego and over 100 Latino special events thoughtout San Diego. He was hired by the Department of Interior of the National Cabrillo Monument to stage the first reenactment play The Landing of Cabrillo.
Education was key for Bill’s success. How lucky I have been to go to college. “I had parents who set an example and set the bar high for my brother, sister and I. There was no option for me and my brother and sister. Both were smarter than I was and probably more successful. There was no question that the journey was in books and the practices of bringing the education to life and to work. I probably would have been in jail or been an actor or a pretty weird agent or a mime on a corner in San Francisco putting out my hat for tips because I was that wild child. I should have been cast as Jungle Boy in Mexico.”
Bill’s activism and volunteerism is well known. He has served on countless boards, commissions and committees (i.e. The Cesar E. Chavez Breakfast, Martin Luther King Breakfast, Friends of Balboa Park, Public Arts Committees of San Diego, Chula Vista and National City, San Diego Shakespeare Society, Teatro Meta’s founding Board of the Old Globe Theatre, The California Arts Council, Diversity Grant Committee, Mariachi Foundation, National City Folklorico Mariachi Festival, Old Town’s Folklorico Competion/Festival, San Diego Opera Latino Committee, San Diego Theatre League, and many more.
(Interview March 21, 2016.)