Dave Rivas: An Actor with Range

Created: 21 June, 2018
Last update: 20 April, 2022

By Mario A. Cortez

Courtesy of Dave Rivas

A man of many talents, Dave Rivas has lent his effort and skills to many organizations and groups throughout San Diego for many years.

Rivas is known for many different things throughout San Diego. Many in social justice and human rights know him as a board member of immigrant-rights group Border Angels, while others involved in the arts know him from his work in San Diego’s theater scene. Online many might recognize him for his voice acting in video games such as Star Trek Online, Backyard Baseball, and Capcom’s remake of 90’s classic Strider; or as the producer behind a number of podcasts.

Finding a passion for acting in his high school days, Rivas would find out that breaking into the acting scene was difficult. With no phone calls returned to him for any roles, he then enrolled in EMT courses to pay the bills.

However, his penchant for the dramatic didn’t go away. Rivas would begin to imitate commercials on the radio and celebrity voices.

“I would repeat the commercials back thinking that I could do a voice or impression better,” Rivas said to La Prensa San Diego. “So I started pursuing voice acting and took classes for speech and public speaking.”

After recording an in-store announcement for Star Wars balloons at Party CIty, Rivas began attending voice workshops,where he met local voice actor Mark Viaggi, who invited him to a studio to record for a helicopter videogame.

“I kept working with (them) and ended up doing a house reel for an animation studio, and through that I got an agent and was on my way to commercials,” shared Rivas, who has over 100 credits under his belt as a voice actor, this in addition to continuing his work as an EMT.

Looking into improving his overall acting performance, Rivas returned to theater and started to appear in local productions.

“Musicals, plays, community shows, I was doing whatever I could get,” he said.

One night, Rivas attended a production of Mexican Christmas classic “La Pastorela,” produced by Southwestern College’s Max Branscomb. Being surrounded by families in their traditional costumes and seeing an old-meets-new mix of christmas carols in spanish side by side with top 40 radio hits, that show marked Rivas.

“I sent director Bill Virchis a letter telling him I wanted to audition for ‘La Pastorela’ and later on I met an actor in that show and said to him ‘you gotta get me in that show.’”

Being born into a Mexican family but not speaking Spanish or looking like what people consider “Latino,” Rivas often had difficulty connecting with his heritage. That changed with “La Pastorela.”

“I grew up in El Cajon not speaking Spanish and I would get called ‘Chino’ for looking kinda Asian despite being Mexican and I had never had anything Latino in my life,” RIvas shared. “I really wanted to be part of this Latino theater group.”

His breakout role as a “cholo devil” lead him to become involved with local Latino theater groups such as Teatro Mascara Magica, Amigos del REP, and Herbert Siguenza’s Culture Clash.

While working on Josefina Lopez’s “Detained in the Desert,” Rivas would play a character based on Border Angels founder and director Enrique Morones and his mentor Roberto Martinez. In an effort to pay the proper homage to the organization’s work, Rivas joined Border Angels to volunteer in activities.

“I got in the truck with them to go to the desert and to the Holtville cemetery and it changed my life,” Rivas recalled.

The play was performed to great applause and moved many to tears. After the show, Morones invited Rivas to continue to attend Border Angels functions and volunteer activities.

Since then Rivas has appeared in numerous stage productions and become a member of Border Angels’ board of directors. Both of these pursuits have come together many a time through the play “Letters from the Wall,” a production which is based on real letters sent by people who are separated by the border and immigration politics.

“One day I was coming home from the REP and Enrique (Morones) says ‘you wanna do a binational play with actors on both sides of the border wall?’ and I said yeah,” Rivas recalled.

After giving much thought to the script and production and what stories to tell, Rivas found himself coming back to real stories shared by people affected most by immigration policies such as mothers, siblings who will never see each other again, and deported veterans.

The play has become a major part of Rivas’ career and he has taken it to numerous venues, from the border and local schools, up to private galleries in conservative enclaves in Rancho Santa Fe and other republican strongholds.

Rivas’ most recent project, one which also merges both the world of acting and Border Angels is producing Morones’ Bad Hombre podcast, in which the Latino movers and shakers of Southern California sit down to talk about what they are doing.

“The show is really cool, we just released our 30th episode and I have the next two recorded already,” Rivas said. “The guests all have such great backgrounds and just want to change the world.”

While his current efforts, from 911 dispatcher to the stage and the community through Border Angels, might touch the lives of many, Rivas just keeps looking forward to new things and helping those along the way.

“I really don’t think I do anything special, I just share honesty and ask people to be open,” he closed.