tlf news

Vol. xix #3

September, 1998

Bugs & Sparks

[Dr. Deborah Cohen, Ph.D., is profesor of Latin-American literature at Slippery Rock University, Pennsylvania. She has visited teatro la fragua several times, and has published studies of la fragua's work in academic journals such as THE DRAMA REVIEW and LATIN AMERICAN THEATRE REVIEW.]

As if anybody had to remind the readership, but it is HOT here in Progreso. Even the natives say it's hotter than usual, that it's bothering everybody, not just visitors. But the mountains are still here, beautiful as ever. And the theater is still here. It seems that some upgrading has occurred since the last time I was here. Two new desks house the computers (one of which crashes at the most inopportune moments). The office is clean and efficiently organized. I'm particularly interested in this, since my main purpose here is to finish translating some of the fraguaīs plays for a bilingual anthology Jack and I hope to publish soon. So the nice work area is certainly appreciated.

Many of the actors I knew are now elsewhere, but the new guys are just as capable and just as nice. The daily routine seems unchanged: rehearsal in the morning, and in the afternoons, Edilberto composing in the back while ballet classes meet in the front of the theater. This time, I'm again staying with Pedro's cousin, but I have borrowed a bike, which makes the commute easier. It sounds odd, but I love the challenge of maneuvering safely down the lunar landscape streets, negotiating the 4-inch dropoff at the railroad tracks, not to mention avoiding dogs, chickens, people, and the cars and trucks that drive on whichever side of the road is the most passable.

The other day, I sat in on a group meeting. Edy Barahona is now acting as business manager, and he is trying to organize things to eliminate certain problems, such as the disappearance of tools. From now on, each storage area will become the responsibility of a designated actor. For all their ideology, I wonder if this cooperative style of management will work for the group. I hope so.

Today I managed to completely screw up the screen of the word processing program I'm using, but later I managed to get it back to normal. I need to take more breaks. I also played a tape of the song I want to choreograph (with Pedro's help, of course). He seems interested. I also e-mailed my secretary to see if anybody she knows in the computer department can help us solve the problem the one computer is having. It certainly helps that tlf has entered the computer age.

I spent all day yesterday thinking it was Wednesday, when it was actually Thursday. Strange how once you get used to the rhythm of life here, the days pass very tranquilly. Except for a small case of heat rash, I'm quite happy. I guess I'd rather be hot than eaten alive by the mosquitos.

Today I stayed late, in order to watch Pedro's ballet recital. Four groups of girls, from little preschoolers up to preteens, showed their parents and families what they had been doing at the ballet school. After warmups at the barre and some floor work, the girls put on a short original dance, using the steps they had practiced in warm-up. Pedro really has the levels well-articulated; you could see the steps the little ones were doing become more complex at each level. The little ones radiated joy; the older ones were much more serious: conscious of the audience and of making mistakes. In spite of the occasional turn in the wrong direction, or the momentary lapse in timing, each girl had at least one splendid moment when she became a graceful and elegant swan. The parents were very pleased (as was this casual onlooker) with the girls' progress. Afterwards, there was a brief meeting with the parents, while everybody else demolished a table full of homemade treats.

Today we arrived at the office only to find that there was no power. Since the play being rehearsed (ALTA ES LA NOCHE, a piece about Francisco Morazan's followers in the 1840's) requires a computer-run sound system at this point, Jack improvised. It became the right moment for a read-through of the play on Bartolomé de las Casas (Defender of Indians) that Jack wants to stage (the play is written by Colombian Enrique Buenaventura). His idea is that, together with a piece on Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero, the piece on Las Casas and the play in rehearsal complete a trilogy that focuses on Central American history. We sat around outside under the trees (natural light source), until it began to pour; then we moved under a shelter. The play reads well; parts of it are quite funny. It's a fresh look at Las Casas, a man born practically at the same time as the printing press and who came of age with the Conquest of the Indies. Every scene is loaded with meaning, information, and sharp characterizations. In the afternoon, rather than sit through another read-through, I picked up the Romero script and read through that. The great thing about Jack is that while looking randomly for good scripts that deal with Central American issues, he manages to create a meaningful trilogy that will both inform and entertain. I have certainly learned more from my contact with tlf than I ever did in a classroom.

Today, while I was typing away in the back, I heard Jack begin to incorporate harmony into the main song of ALTA ES LA NOCHE (The Night is Far Advanced). I heard some pretty discordant singing initially, but then, all of a sudden, a wondrous sound reached my ears: a chord in four-part harmony. I got goose bumps. I can't wait to sit through the whole play.

Out of town tryouts. We're going to premiere ALTA in Olanchito, for two reasons. First, because it is the home town of the original novel's author, Ramón Amaya Amador. Second, because tlf was born here nearly 20 years ago. The cultural center in Olanchito has a patio, shaded by two huge trees, where the group performs. The stage is at one end of the patio, and has a roof. Jack puts me in charge of taking "crowd" pictures. In fact, once I'm in charge of the camera, I never really get a chance to just sit and watch the play. As we are setting up, Edy informs us that the group originally scheduled has canceled at the last minute. What to do? The actors fan out, giving interviews at local radio and tv stations, and visiting local schools. We end up with a full house (patio).

In Olanchito, as the actors are running through the play, re-blocking the action for this stage, a young man with Down syndrome gets bitten hard by the acting bug. After observing the group for a few minutes, he walks right up onstage, and begins to mimic the action. The actors work around him, but nobody asks him to leave. Turns out he is the son of a woman who works in the cultural center. His sister and I each take a side of the stage during the performance, to keep the kid from joining in. I ask Jack for a raise, since I'm now a bouncer as well as a photographer. The opening goes well for the most part, but there are some bugs to be worked out.

I wake up with a cold. By mid-day, when we get to Savá to set up, I'm unable to help at all. I run into a pharmacy and get some Comtrex. When we take our personal stuff to the training center in Sonaguera, I stay behind and sleep. I miss the performance. Oh well. Fortunately, that's the worst of it, and I'm ready for the next one.

Today is Juan's birthday. After we set up in Tocoa, we take off for Trujillo, and an afternoon at the beach. Jack and I work on the translations. The zancudos make a tasty snack of my left arm, which gets all red and blotchy from the bites. Jack uses up the last of the color film taking shots of the guys against the tropical beach background. In the evening, we celebrate Juan's birthday with cake.

Tocoa. Seems that most of the church complex where they are performing runs on the same electrical circuit. This presents problems, and they have to run an extension to the house next door for the sound equipment. The morning crowd of about 250 high-school kids is fairly attentive. When the actors introduce themselves at the end, Javier draws wolf whistles. The afternoon is another story. Instead of dividing the rest of the schools into two shows, as Edy had originally planned, the teachers decide to bring them all at once. It is hot standing room only, and the kids are so noisy that you can barely hear the actors from about the sixth row back. The quality of the show declines to meet its audience. At night the actors end up playing to a "crowd" of 17. Such is life on tour in Honduras.

My last day. Although by this time, I'm usually anxious to get back to "civilization", I find myself surprisingly emotional and unwilling to leave. I think what attracts me most to working with tlf is their capacity to inspire. When their characters speak of ideals, they can ignite sparks in even the most hardened cynic. I find myself returning to the States and my teaching with renewed energy and a desire to make a difference.

--Deborah Cohen, Ph.D.

A scene from ALTA ES LA NOCHE in the Cultural Center of Olanchito, June 1998

Foto courtesy of Deb Cohen.

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