Monday, April 5, 2010

Mel's Last Post

I've been putting off writing this entry for a number of reasons. I was way too emotional last week to even think of attempting to write anything. Uncontrollable sobbing while typing is not a good thing. Also, I've been struggling with how does one possible describe the indescribable. Finally, I think some part of me felt that once I posted this entry my experience in Suchitoto will officially be over. I've never been good with goodbyes and this experience is no exception.

The last week of our stay was truly magical. The show came together in a way that can really only be described as a miracle. And the show itself was breathtaking... from the heart of the the incredible atmosphere that was created by all of the technical the overwhelming amount of people that managed to crowd into the chapel....just incredible. The parade through the town over to Es Artes for the reception was an experience of absolute jubilation. You know those times in life when the hair on the back of your neck stands up and you get this shiver over your body because you know that you will never be in this moment or even this kind of moment ever again..... this was the feeling this night. I kept trying to take moments to just look around and take it all in. It was... overwhelming. (Oh crap... here come the tears... and I haven't even gotten to the goodbyes yet!) The pictures Mike has posted tell some of the story - like the ones of the guy running through the crowd with the firecrackers strapped to his back. But none of them capture the true essence of those moments and I don't think I am doing a very good job of conveying that here either. I think it was one of those things where you really just 'had to be there'.

After the euphoria of the launch on the Sat. (and the disco that followed) came the letdown. Those of us who work in theatre know that after the closing night there is always the sadness that follows - the realization that that experience is over and will never happen again and the goodbyes to all of those people that we have been working so closely with for so long. Well, amplify that by a million and you might come close to what it was like to try to say goodbye to this project and the people we had been working with. It was lovely to be able to move into the fancy hotel and seclude ourselves a bit with our thoughts. But the goodbyes are inevitable... and so they began... First was to a large group of girls in the cast who came and found Sean and I at the hotel. There were flowers and pictures, hugs and tears, and one girl, Lili, who found the strength to sing through her tears a song of goodbye. It was one of the most moving, emotional experiences of my life. Next, it was to Mario and Tatiana and Mike's muchachos. All moving in their own way. Mario, the incredible props guy, stage manager, dance choreographer (and proud papa too!) Tatiana, the reason this project happened. What a truly incredible woman she is! It was an absolute honour to be able to work with her for this short time. Ahhhh.... and Mike's Muchachos! What a great bunch of young guys they are. So dedicated... so eager to learn... so awesome! And what great dancers! :)
For me the goodbyes got harder as we neared the end of our stay. I found Zoila in the square and got some pictures. I had learned how to say 'I will miss you' in Spanish and she gave me a big smile and a 'Yo tambien' in reply. We hugged and smiled and cried a little too and somehow the language barrier no longer mattered. She is another truly incredible woman that I was very lucky to be able to get to know just a little bit. Finally, on our last night we had a sumptuous dinner at the hotel with Eu. I don't know what I would have done without her. She was my right hand gal, seamstress, Dresser for the show, translator, confidant, and friend. She is an incredible young woman - bright, creative, extremely talented. Saying goodbye to her was incredibly difficult as we had pretty much spent from sunup to sundown together for the whole 3 weeks I was there. We may not see each other as much (facebook and skype are poor substitutes for cervezas in the square at Lupitas) but I know that she and I will be friends for the rest of our lives.

The culture shock since being home has been extreme and it was good that I had a couple of days to just try to process everything before having to go back to work. (ask me about my trip to Zehrs sometime!)

I guess in the end I feel kind of guilty as I feel like I got way more out of this experience than I feel that I gave. It was only 3 weeks but it seems like so much more. There is something about that town and it's people - it gets into your soul and you are not quite the same after you leave. I may be home and jumping back into life here but Suchitoto will always have a part of my heart.

Adios Suchitoto. Te voy a extranar!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Show pictures

I've been trying to write a wrap-up blog entry but I think I'm till processing the whole thing. Here is a link to an album from the show. It was much easier to post many pictures at once this way.


Friday, April 2, 2010

Sean's Final Post

The show has opened and simultaneously closed. It may tour in the future, but nothing will ever compare to the celebration and performance that we shared in last night. To say the project’s launch was a success would be an understatement and to describe the thrill of the night in words will never do justice to what I witnessed in Suchitoto, on March 27th, 2010. The kids performed their hearts out for the community, and the community responded with equal enthusiasm. We had expected a small crowd of parents and supporters, but the city of Suchitoto came out in droves filling the chapel to beyond capacity. Mike’s muchachos ran the show with precision and Mel, Zoila, Eugina and I were able to proudly look on at our costumes and make-up as the kids characters came to life. In total, we designed and built all the costumes from scratch for a cast of 36, including bijou, dye work and fabric arts. We shopped, built the props and hung a canopy adorned with fabric swatches, twisted and knotted in a weeping willow of tendrils encasing the unit set created by the team before us. We hung a makeshift grid of lights and sound equipment, incorporated some special effects with a silk/fan fire and two live animals. We sewed a 16 piece maypole in a quilt of scrap fabric and the kids danced sang, and performed some acrobatics.

Following the production the entire group, led by the cast, marched out of the chapel grounds and into the street. The songs and dance continued in the streets to the thrumming beat of drums played by students strategically placed along the parade route. Street games resembling London Bridge and Congo Lines carried the mass to the town square where the fireworks display was planned. The ‘cuchemonde’, (I have no idea how this is spelled), an animal shaped frame ornamented in home-made fireworks is worn over the head and shoulders of its master and with only a wet towel protecting him from catching fire he takes flight, running without abandon through the crowds to the cheers of all. Roman candles spit their hissing decorative bombs while the children continued to sing about peace and solidarity. Finally, we moved past the square and into the homeward stretch towards Es Artes main office. Those not in the parade watched from behind barred windows or perched on curbs. Once at Es Artes, the crowd poured into the mango tree courtyard. Drinks concocted of chaparo, local corn liquor not sold in stores, were handed out in champagne glasses while the dignitary’s were recognized and speeches were presented. The kids, still in costume, sweating from head to foot chanted our names and stood in honour on the make-shift stage until the talking was complete. The chance to mingle and meet the patrons followed and so did the beer and wine. A small viewing station was created in the main office where a brief documentary prepared by some of the local volunteers played on a loop.

Still high off the adrenaline of the parade, the staff from Es Artes, CUSO-VSO and Stratford tumbled down the street to the infamous Disco you’ve heard about before. More beer flowed and green mango and salt were the perfect compliment. Then, we danced. Oh, how we danced. We descended on the dance floor, and quickly took it over. The Muchachos were on fire, teaching everyone their moves, whether you wanted to dance or not. Sponsors and CUSO-VSO reps let down their hair and danced so hard that the sweat ran like rain down their face; our shirts, drenched and stuck to our torsos in a well earned celebration of the accomplishments and goals we all met and the challenges we conquered. It truly was one of the most inspirational nights I have ever experienced. Under a nearly full harvest moon, (I’m not making this up), we finally left the disco, some to the square following in a giddy trance the chorus of a Queen cover song, and some home to bed, spent and exhausted but full of pride.

That was it. Our whole experience summed up in one illustrious evening. The following days involved striking of the sets and re-organization of the work shops; a tying up of loose ends, avoiding the inevitable goodbyes. The emotions began to surface, replacing our pride for sadness as we prepared to leave for home. We moved into a new hotel, a brief respite of pampering as reward for a job well done. The days passed in slow motion while we bought our final souvenirs and shared our last cerveca’s by the pool. The kids stopped by in small groups to say goodbye one last time, and the tears flowed. “Thank you for believing in us”, one said while two others sang to us acapella. Pictures were taken and I will admit to feeling a blush cover my face on more then one occasion as these young artists tried to convey their emotions to a guy who speaks very little Spanish. Mostly, everything was summed up in bear-hugs and the flowers they presented us with.

The flight home was quiet. We all had very little left, in energy and emotions, to share as we sat reflecting on our experience. As I write this, I’ve already been home now for a couple of days. It feels like Suchitoto was a lifetime ago now; a world away. It’s been hard re-adjusting to the food at home. Many of my stomach symptoms have returned, so I’ve been instructed to stick to a strict bland diet. I’m trying to hold on to some of the lessons I’ve learned from my time in Suchitoto. I keep reminding myself to slow down, take time for myself and share with others. I try to walk slower. We run far too much from A to B without appreciating the world around us. I’m trying to be outside more, and not stress about bringing my cell phone with me.

This will likely be my last blog, unless I am asked to return to Central America one day. As I hand over my torch to whomever gets sent next I know that I will forever be part of something important. I will always have the honour of being one of the Design representatives from Canada for the premiere production and will cherish the way my work was transformed by the needs of the group and influenced by the talents of the artists involved. I will always have my memory of that sleepy little chiuaua of a town and how it’s opened my eyes to what is really important. I will always have a connection to the kids and staff involved in this joint initiative and Suchitoto will always have a little piece of me. Thanks to you all for your support, and buenas noches El. Salvador. May Es Artes flourish and open new doors for anyone who chooses to share in its dream.

Sean xo