Monday, November 3, 2008

It´s a Theater Thing...

So, after holding rehearsals every weekday at either 8 am or 5 pm and even some impromptu weekend run-throughs, my theater group finally had their performance last week in La Serena. We (me included, which was awesome), were put up in some nice cabanas and served three meals a day for three days. So, that in itself was quite enjoyable. The name of the play, was “The Three Wise Men’s Younger Dumber Brothers,” and it was hysterical. The 20 minute comedy was a parody on the birth of Jesus, and so I was the tiniest bit nervous of how we would be received, though not much, since I haven’t been wowed by the English level here. A quick excerpt:

Sally: So Mary Jane, you must be devastated the baby might not be yours…
MJ: ….we’re peachy compared to next door in the other stable.
S: Who’s next door?
MJ: Mary and Joseph and their new little baby. Our lives are easy compared to their situation.
S: Why? Is it bad? Is it devastating?
MJ: Well, Mary doesn’t even know how she got pregnant, cuz she’s a virgin, and Joseph doesn’t know how she got pregnant either, because they never … you know …
S: They must be absolutely devastated!!!

And so it went on … truly, very funny. I chose the play because all eight characters were over the top and I figured with their limited acting and English experience, the sillier the better. Turns out, I was correct. They were great and to my surprise and delight, I was not the only person in the audience laughing out loud throughout. The group before us did Shakespeare (how original) and it was “fome.”
I have never felt so competent. I have never directed a play before, though I watched my mother do it hundreds of times, and watching my seven adoreable high schoolers up on that stage juggling English and comedy, I realized I was very very lucky to be given the opportunity to undertake this English Theater Festival. Throughout the coaching process, at times, while trying to convey a comedic beat in the script – whether with an outrageous body movement or a facial expression -- I would hear and see myself sounding and acting ridiculous, and have such vivid dejavu of watching my mother direct her plays, without a care to what people thought of her or how ridiculous she looked. I would remember watching her do the very same thing -- being quirky, passionate and talented all at once without being aware of it. So many times since I’ve been here in Chile I’ve been aware that in many ways I am more similar to my mother than I ever imagined. In the ways that require strength, discipline, courage, determination and dear God, let’s not forget efficiency, I am my mother’s daughter. She is tough and as it turns out, when I need to be, so am I. And thank GOD (well, and fabulous genes) for that. I put as much energy as I could into these kids and this play, without building my expectations up too high (based on prior experience with the work ethic of the students in my school), and looking back it almost feels like it was too easy. To coach anything successfully, I’ve discovered you must create an exclusive environment. The fun of being in a play or on a dance team is just to feel like you are part of something special, something that noone else is part of. If done correctly, after the final product, you should have a group of kids who are more like family than friends, who have gone through something together that caused them to push each other but also to lean on each other. There should be mountains of inside jokes and traditions to keep as memories after the performance is over. With my theater kids (and, for such a short time, with my cheer kids too) we had that. The night before their performance we had a little pajama party in my hotel room. One of my favorites, Macarena, has family problems. I’m still not sure exactly what goes on, but she came to me earlier that day crying, convinced she could not do the silly theater warm-up’s with the rest of the cast. After we talked, I promised her an ice cream slumber party (I mean really, when does that NOT work?), and led her by the hand, back onstage and had her push through. She needed to participate with her friends and scream her lines while running around on the stage, just like everyone else (totally helps with their nerves, btw). I honestly believed it would help her, to leave her problems on the floor and be part of the group, her group, especially when things were tough. I’ve been there, I’ve done that, and at the end of the day, it was my saving grace. To have something that was mine, all mine. No ex-boyfriend, or family crisis could ever touch me when I was dancing, because I was in my element and I think it’s probably due to a lack of these elements, that kids get into trouble. That night, I bought a big bag of knock-off Lays potato chips (terrible and burnt) and the kids laughed and had mini photo-shoots, jumping from my bed to the doorway. I gave out little cards I had hand-made for everyone. Each card had one of the particular character’s funny quotes on the front and a heartfelt, good luck message, written in English, on the inside. Minutes later, my four girls were sobbing in my arms. Moments after that, I joined them. If I go back home, with nothing else, I did this right. In tears, Anita said, “It’s just that, I’ve never been good at anything. I’ve been a failure at everything I’ve tried to do…” And that’s when it hit me. Another one of those, ‘Omg, I’ve been a part of something so special here in this country’ moments. These kids will never forget this experience and I’ve watched as some have developed into the best of friends during rehearsals, right before my eyes. And even if they don’t particularly remember me (they will though, they tell me), they will remember how much fun they had and how hard they worked and how they were a part of something truly great for their high school, the worst high school in Vallenar, the one that excepts “everybody.” Except, my kids and I wanted it all for ourselves. They don’t reflect their H.S. and it’s a trick to pretend A-7 had anything to do with what we accomplished.

Angel, who was the other teacher there with me, beamed with pride the night of our performance. He was sweating nervously before they took the stage, even though I assured him they were ready. I think he knew I could do it, but he was also shocked that I did it well. Chile is so confusing to me at times. An hour before the show, he said to me, “Teresa, you’re gonna kill me, we don’t have the cradle you asked for…” I looked at him, half-annoyed, and said “Angel, did you honestly think, I was holding my breath for that cradle?” But what if I had been? From the beginning, he’s wanted me to work magic for his high school. He is obsessed with his image at A-7 to the point where it’s his vain Achilles heel. Yet, every single time I approached him in the weeks before the performance with practical questions like, “On the list, where it says I need a cradle/dagger/staff, are we on top of that? Should I go out and look for the props?” or “Can we get started on scenery?” or “Have you emailed La Serena to check the layout of the stage?” I was always always always greeted by the same response. Even more infuriating, it was always in English. “Teresa, don’t worry, don’t worry!” Then, in Spanish, “Sit down? How was your day? How have you been feeling?” I almost screamed at him several times, “I’m fine! I don’t want to sit down so you can waste my time and tell me the same thing for the millionth time, just answer my question!!!” Honestly, it’s like some Chileans have absolutely no sense of personal time… Anyway, the point is: 1)the scenery was painted by three students who missed three straight days of classes to get it done days before we left 2) we arrived in La Serena and had to search the shops for a dagger and 3)two local boys had to hold up our canvas backdrop (scenery), for half the play. This is why I say, my expectations do not dare soar too high. However, it must be said, that though Angel is completely machista and on my back all the time, he did take me aside after dinner, the night of the play and fighting back tears (I swear to you) thank me for helping him achieve what he needed to. I really think for him it was personal more than having anything to do with A-7. He got offered a job in La Serena the next day, after a local school saw the show. His head as big as a hot air balloon he paraded around with the information and had me suffer through many a one-on-one talk about how I helped him achieve the image he wanted. I finally turned to him and said, “Yes but, what will you do next year, when this festival rolls around again, and they ask you to direct your new schools play?” “That’s when I’ll call you Teresa!” he said triumphantly. He did nothing. Not one teacher in my school helped me, at all. I did it all by myself. (Hmm, that sounds familiar…) If Angel had it his way, I’d do his leg work for the rest of his life from the U.S.. No sir, I will not be answering that telephone call.

After our pajama party, I felt more like my kids’ older sister than their teacher, and with my head on Maka’s lap, the constant stream of Chileno (which is NOT normal Spanish) filling my brain (which patiently converts more and more English to Spanish each day), I giggled with my girls as the boy’s struck ridiculous poses. I guess once a theater kid, always a theater kid. And if you have truly spent any significant amount of time with “theater people,” as I did at AMDA, you know what I’m talking about. Birds of a feather flock together, “cachai?” I’m not saying we’re normal….


Gladys T. Olson said...

Congratulations!!! You did a great job, and yes, your kids will remember you for a long time.
Looking forward to your return. We would love to see all your pictures.
Lots of love and hugs,
Aunt Gladys & Uncle Andy

edcayce said...

Oh! Dear! This reminds me of your play at the end of your elementary school. This is a memory I carry with me always, at the end of the play you and your friends were shinning with pride and vows of frienship. Come to think of it! I remember all your plays with tears in my eyes. Love, Papa.

Susan said...

Wow, what an accomplishment. Good Job!!! I am sure you are beginning to think of the end of this incredible journey with mixed emotions. Enjoy every single moment and you will have cherished memories forever---and so will the kids.