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.