tlf news Vol. xvi, #4 December, 1993

Never Perform with Animals or Small Children

When I joined the Jesuits a long time ago, we were taught a dance class in the novitiate. It was called "Eurythmics", however, since the rest of the province would have been shocked to hear that the novices were dancing. That would have been frivolous or downright damaging to our well-being. It wasn't, as a matter of fact. It was one of the best things I've ever done. So we learned how to dance in the novitiate and I've been following it ever since. Some of the most important moments of my life have been while I've watched others perform as dancers or while I've danced myself. I decided that life was worth living one year simply by looking at dance photographs. It's an art form that is essential to everyone.

So I was immeasureably heartened on my last day with teatro la fragua this summer to see the final rehearsal for their contemporary dance program. The company did a piece to music from Philip Glass' MISHIMA, Oscar danced to "Claire de Lune", the company did a juggling, clown piece, and they also did the dance pieces from the bible narratives. In addition a group from the UCA in El Salvador did three pieces. It was good to be there. The dancing was good, and sometimes brilliant. The choreography was interesting -- and I've seen a lot of dance, both ballet and modern, in the U.S. The work and the effort was exhilarating. If anyone asks me if the work that the teatro does is important to our well-being, I would give a resounding YES. TO DANCE is to celebrate life, and explore many different layers of our experience.

And, yes, I did see some of their verbal productions too (always, of course, with some pratfalls included to keep the kids entertained, and to remind us all of our foibles).

I had high school Spanish, but I don't speak Spanish much at all. I understand some of it, if you talk to me like you're talking to a stupid gringo, which I am, and I can read a little more of it. (In that same novitiate I also studied lots of Latin; I knew it would come in handy sometime). So their verbal shows I enjoyed, even though I did't always know what was going on. Their acting has a strong physical component to it, so I was always entertained, and I admired how they interpreted the words: I could recognize the skill they have in what they do even if I didn't know what they were saying. And I thoroughly enjoyed watching the audience. They too were fascinated by what they saw. Kids wander around, bugs attack (Why did God create mosquitoes, besides giving the purple martins something to eat?), dogs bark, the warm air is circulated by the fans, and still the audience focuses on the play. And laughs, and thinks, and applauds, and are moved by what they see and hear. I am glad I saw the productions.

I came to teatro la fragua to teach mime to the company. And it went well. We worked on mime technique, and I created a piece for the whole company. I sweated a lot, although I sweated just as much stuffing and labelling the newsletter in the back room with Juan. (I think I just sweat a lot -- St. Louis does give Honduras a run for its money in the heat department). I also worked on pieces that I was going to do for a public showing. The company piece would probably fit in the post-modern mime category (I just learned mime 20 years ago, and already I'm post-modern). It was a series of mime movements done to a piece of post-modern music by Steve Reich. The music and the movement are made up of textures and layers of sound and movement. (I've seen a lot of modern dance, so that influenced how I put the piece together). There was no story. And I think the piece was well done by the company. But next time I need to be a little more mainstream. The audience watched respectfully -- although we lost the kids right away -- but Anita González' pieces on flying and on war had more audience appeal and used some of the same kinds of movement that I did. I will choose my music differently next time.

I myself did two kinds of mimes on the program -- biblical mimes and popular mimes. The audience respectfully watched "The cure of the man born blind", "The story of Adam", and "The Good Shepherd". But what they applauded the most was a mime about water drips filling up a room so that the occupant has to swim underwater and still read his newspaper; and a mime about a North American tasting Honduran hooch for the first time. The latter is based on a mime that a French Jesuit did once at a Jesuit party -- of a Frenchman drinking American whiskey for the first time. So it has a strong international component to it. The show itself was ok, but working on the show was the really good experience.

I had actually made my international debut a week earlier at church, where I helped Jack do the homily. The Gospel was part of "the kingdom of God is like..." series. And I acted out selling everything for a field with a treasure, and selling everything for one pearl, and catching good fish and bad fish and keeping only the good. And that all went well. But.... When Mass was starting I noticed this dog wandering around the front pews -- this is the kids' Mass, and he was there with some of them, though they kept trying to get him to lie down or go with another part of the family. I thought of W. C. Fields' classic rule: Never perform with animals or small children. Here I was with both. So Jack reads the Gospel and I get up to do my thing, which involves walking in place across the front of the altar, getting all set to discover this field that I'm then going to buy. Well, we all know what a dog does if someone walks in front of his turf. He started barking in the middle aisle. So I glared at him from my story of the guy buying his field and went on my way. It actually worked out fine. The kids loved both what I was doing and the dog barking. So W.C. Fields isn't always right.

We tried it again the following Sunday with the story of the loaves and fishes (but without the dog this time). And we fed the whole church and had lots left over.

The sign of peace is especially moving: it seems that every kid in the place tries to shake your hand.

Other images from the visit:

The highway from hell -- between San Pedro Sula and El Progreso. They're working on it and you get to drive right where they're working. It was truly exciting in the dark when we ran into one large dirt pile and a bit farther along almost ended up in one large ditch. Actually, by the time I left the construction area was much more organized and easier to drive on. It had lost much of its excitement.

Driving in general is interesting, what with dogs, bikes, taxis, buses, cars, pedestrians, horses, horse carts, cows, pigs, and chickens all sharing the same space.

The flowering trees were beautiful while I was there. I walked by one yard and realized the large bushes all about were hibiscus -- I'm used to plants in six-inch pots.

Everything is wide open -- I'm not used to that, and so everything looked strange and different. By the end of my visit all that looked natural.

And then there was our trip to Copán. It was wonderful going to Copán and standing next to a tree that looked old enough and big enough to have been around when the place was still actively used. Watching archaeologists in the act of sifting through the place, and workers rebuilding walls. Seeing pieces of stone that were carved centuries ago, lying on the side of the walk. It's no wonder people have taken them home with them. It's not always greed that makes people take artifacts; it's fascination with something so old and so beautiful. It is tempting to take "just a little one". But the only place to really appreciate them is right there.

On the way back we got stuck in the mud and ended up blocking a mountain road in our van. So the bus behind us emptied, and the passengers pushed us back on the road. They had to. There was no way around. But it was still nice of them.

And from the realm of the bizarre: American t-shirts were everywhere. My favorite was the "Party Naked" t-shirt at Sunday Mass.

And at the lake in the mountains Oscar ate the WHOLE fish head at lunch -- gross but ecologically sound.

And I do wonder if Chepe and Pedro passed the tests they took at school while I was there -- the high school teacher in me wants to know.

It was a good month. Gracias a teatro la fragua . Y gracias por teatro la fragua .

--John Craig sj

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