CHULA VISTA, Calif. — “I never worked a day in my life since I started teaching and doing what I love,” said longtime Community College Art Director William Virchis.

Walking the halls of the theater department at Southwestern Community College, Virches, 79, feels right at home.

“This is the place,” Virchis said. “Freedom, freedom, freedom, right?”

Between the rows of seats, props and stage lights, the community college’s nearly 40 years of history is embodied by its director.

“It was never a hobby for me,” continued Virchis. “It was almost like a behavioral science, I wanted to learn about the conflict of man. My mother and father were very instrumental in it.”

But long before he taught, Virchis himself was a burgeoning theater student from in Mexico City, who moved north of the border to Chula Vista. He landed his first play at the age of 9. 

“I spoke Shakespeare before I spoke English,” Virchis said. “I didn’t speak English at that time so that’s how I got started in the theater.”

“There were only a few Mexicans here,” he recalled. “There was nobody here. There was no Cinco De Mayo, no Dia De Los Muertos — none of that stuff. The theater became part of that world of exploration of others.”

While his first love was entertainment, Virches fell into a new passion once high school rolled around: wrestling. 

“Wrestling saved my butt, wrestling was my metaphor like theater,” Virchis explained. “Theater is a metaphor for wrestling, because you’re by yourself. You’re Hamlet, you’re the lead protagonist on that mat.

“I was 98 pounds and if I lost that match, it meant that all the matches could be lost,” he added. “Failure could not be in your vocabulary.”

Little did the three-year letterman at Chula Vista High School realize, it would be the mat and this sport that brought up one of his greatest students: Mario Lopez.

“He’s been the only guy I’ve known that hasn’t been out of a job since he was 7 years old,” joked Virchis. “His theater, he was a dancer on the matt, he was an actor. He faked you out. That power of theater, that osmosis, you saw the power the sport in it. The power of the acting process, you have to believe that you’re this Superman.”

Throughout his career at Southwestern Community College, Virchis directed, produced and acted in more than 250 productions, including 17 world college premieres in the South Bay. 

“I thank this place for giving me a house,” he continued, “giving me a family, giving me a career, giving me great dreams.”

While he’s no longer teaching inside the classroom, the acting doesn’t end. 

“Retirement is a weird word for me,” Virchis said. “Artists die with their brushes in their hand, guitarists with their guitars. Artists never retire and you can’t retire as an artist. You just got to keep on going.”