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Office of Education and Outreach Presents:

The Circuit logo


A Teacher’s Guide


A Note to Teachers:
Our actors will present a brief outline of theatre etiquette as part of their introduction; however, it would make a stronger impression on your students if you covered the same information prior to the performance. Here are a few suggestions for student etiquette:

  • Before entering the performance area, get a drink of water or visit the restroom if you need to.
  • Once you are seated, you should remain seated. Because the actors are directed to move all around the room during the performance, it's important for everybody's safety that the walkways and stage areas remain clear.
  • You share the performance with everyone in the audience. Distracting activity such as talking or moving not only disturbs the actors onstage but the audience around you as well.
  • Your comments and ideas about the play are important, but save them for after the play to discuss them. If you’d like, you can even write a letter to the performers.
  • An invisible bond is formed between actors and a good audience, and it enables the actors to do their best for you. A good audience helps make a good performance.


PCPA Theaterfest is proud to present our Outreach Tour performance of Francisco Jimenez’s The Circuit. We hope that our visit will be followed by many more.
Thank you for hosting PCPA Theaterfest.



Elements of the Story:
Francisco Jimenez, also known as Pancho, is a young boy who lives with his family in a small pueblito in Mexico called El Rancho Blanco. The family dreams about living in a place where Papa will earn good money and they can live in a house with electricity and running water. Papa decides that his family will cross la frontera, the border between Mexico and California, so the family can have a better life.

The family finds the journey to California difficult. The train is loud and noisy and the ride lasts for several days. Eventually they reach la frontera which Pancho is surprised to find is “no more than a gray wire fence where there were armed guards.”

California is not what the family imagined. The family works all day in the strawberry fields. When strawberries are out of season, they must move and find work in other fields. Instead of a house with plush carpet, the Jimenez family lives in a tent.

In between work, Pancho finds time to befriend a boy named Miguelito. Sadly, Pancho loses his friend when Miguelito has to move away from Tent City because his family needs to earn more money. Nothing is permanent when you live in Tent City.

Soon, Pancho starts school. Pancho finds school difficult because he doesn’t understand English. But school does have its benefits. Pancho excels during art time. Inspired by the classroom caterpillar, Francisco draws a beautiful picture of a butterfly.

One cold day, Miss Scalapino discovers that Pancho doesn’t have a coat. The principal, Mr. Sims, gives Pancho a jacket from the “Lost and Found.” However, it turns out that the coat belongs to Curtis, the biggest and most popular kid in class.

Curtis wants the jacket back, but because Pancho doesn’t speak English, he doesn’t understand what Curtis is saying. The two boys fight.  Pancho is embarrassed after the fight and stops participating in class. Pancho doesn’t realize that the other kids think he is brave for standing up to Curtis until his friend, Arthur, tells him so.

Soon, Pancho is more comfortable in class and starts to understand more and more English. One day, Miss Scalapino announces that Pancho’s picture of the butterfly has won first prize at a children’s art exhibit. Later that afternoon, Pancho notices that the class caterpillar is breaking out of its cocoon. Pancho opens the jar and everyone watches the butterfly fly away.

After school, Curtis asks if he can see Pancho’s picture. Curtis tells Pancho that he is a good artist. Pancho gives Curtis the picture as a sign of friendship.

Suddenly, immigration guards arrive at Pancho’s school. Mr. Sims announces that Pancho and his family are being deported back to Mexico.



Main Characters:

  • Pancho: also called Francisco. A young boy who immigrates to California with his family in the 1940s.
  • Mama: Pancho’s mother.
  • Papa: Pancho’s father
  • Roberto: Pancho’s brother.
  • Miguelito: Pancho’s first best friend.
  • Mr. Sims: the principle at Pancho’s school
  • Miss Scalapino: Francisco’s teacher.
  • Arthur: Pancho’s school friend
  • Curtis: a popular boy at school.

Elements of Our Production:

Costume designer Barbara Harvey based her designs on photographs from the 1930s-50s.

image of young boy with american flag

costume rendering
A watercolor sketch of Pancho’s costume.
Harvey primarily used photographs of schoolchildren, teachers, and field workers in her research.

tent city

mother's costume rendering

Compare Mama’s costume with the mother in the photograph.

Several actors in The Circuit play more than one character. Costumes must be similar enough to make costume changes easy for the actor, yet different enough so audiences can distinguish individual characters.

more costume designs

more costume designs

Which costume pieces did actors retain for the whole production? Which additional costume pieces were used to define characters?

Set Design:
Set Designer Beth Moore based the set design on maletas, which Papa describes as “cardboard boxes tied with rope, a poor man’s suitcase.”

a sketch of a maleta

A sketch of a maleta.

Moore says: “I thought having a modular set with boxes seemed appropriate, not only as a visual connection to journey and family, but also as a solution for the numerous scene changes.”

sketch of the set design

A sketch of the set design for Pancho’s classroom. Each number represents an individual box. When the boxes are stacked, they form a desk and chair. The boxes can be disassembled and rearranged to represent a car, a train, and the Jimenez family home.

model of the set
A model of The Circuit set.

Historical Background:

The Real Francisco:

Francisco Jimenez
Francisco Jimenez at 13.

Francisco Jimenez was born in Tlaquepaque, Mexico, in 1943. His first memoir, The Circuit, depicts Francisco’s childhood in California. The book and the play end with the Jimenez family’s deportation. Fortunately, the family was able to obtain visas and return to America. But life wasn’t any easier for Francisco with a visa. Moving interrupted Francisco’s education and made it difficult to stay on top of his studies. Although he struggled, Francisco worked hard to educate himself. Francisco would write down English words he didn’t know in a small notebook. He studied when he had breaks from working in the field. Francisco also collected books when he visited the city dump with his family. Francisco reflected later in life: “I came to realize that learning and knowledge were the only stable things in my life. Whatever I learned in school, that knowledge would stay with me no matter how many times we moved."

Francisco Jimenez with mother
Francisco (left) with Mama and Roberto

The family finally settled permanently in Santa Maria after debilitating back pain forced Francisco’s father to stop working in the fields. Francisco’s brother, Roberto, became the primary provider for the family and worked as a janitor at a Santa Maria school. Francisco also worked as a janitor, which he found a great deal better than working in the fields. "The work was indoors; and after I was done cleaning, I could study in an office.”

Francisco Jimenez in high school

Francisco as a freshman at Santa Maria High School

Because he no longer had to miss class due to frequent moves, Francisco thrived in high school. He had a 3.7 GPA and was elected student body president. A guidance counselor arranged scholarships and loans so Francisco could attend college. He enrolled at Santa Clara University, the college where he is now a professor and chairman of the Modern Languages and Literatures Department.

Francisco Jimenez
Francisco Jimenez today.

In 1997, The Circuit: Stories from the Life of a Migrant Child was published. The book has won several literary awards including the Boston Globe Horn Book Award for Fiction; the Americas Award; the California Library Association John and Patricia Beatty Award; a Jane Addams Honor Book Award; an American Library Association Best Book for Young Adults, the FOCAL Award given by the Los Angeles Public Library System and the Reading the World Award given by the University of San Francisco.

Francisco’s sequel to The Circuit, Breaking Through, was published in 2001.
Breaking Through follows Francisco’s life through high school.

This was followed by another sequel, released in 2008, called Reaching Out.
This book follows Francisco through college.

Francisco has also written two picture books, La Mariposa and The Christmas Gift/El regalo de Navidad.


Questions and Activities:


  • Explain to your students that The Circuit is a play based on the book by Francisco Jimenez. Open a discussion with your students on the work that goes into adapting a true story for a stage production.
  • Read Francisco Jimenez’s book, The Circuit. What are the differences between the book and the stage adaptation?
  • Discuss how the PCPA production of The Circuit stressed ideas or production elements to help tell the story. For example, how did costumes, props, sets, and lighting help tell the story? What special effects were used in providing atmosphere in the play? What was the common theme in the designs?
  • Discuss the use of Spanish in the performance. English speakers: Could you understand what the Spanish words meant?
  • Why is America is a land of immigrants? Discuss where your ancestors came from. What do you know about their journey to America?  


  • The Circuit is based on a memoir which is made up of several short stories about Francisco Jimenez’s childhood. Write your own short story about an event in your life.
  • Draw your own costume/set designs for The Circuit.
  • Draw your own picture of a butterfly.
  • The actors from PCPA Theaterfest welcome questions and comments from students after the show. Write a letter and send it to:

PCPA Theaterfest
Education and Outreach
800 S. College Dr.
Santa Maria CA 93454


Click to see photos from the production.