Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Week Eight continued... and a bit more

Thursday, Nov. 11 - Zoila and I work through the half-dozen notes from the dress rehearsal and, after lunch, I head over to the theatre to see how they are getting on. Eric, Lisa, Jeremy, Mark, Tito and Mario, with support from Arlene and Jenn and several students, have completely transformed the stage!

All the black curtains are hung - the too-short legs (side curtains) have been extended and are now perfect; the borders fill in the bare frame of the proscenium; the black traveller (back curtain) hides the gold brocade and completes the 'box' that houses the beautiful set pieces - five tall metal doorframes with ironwork 'balconies' and louvered wooden doors. (The traveller was a foot too short as well and there was no time to alter it, but more fabric was safety-pinned to the back of the hem to bring it to the floor, and the illusion is complete.) The ghostly silvery-blue organza drops have been hung to break up the black, and the whole effect is eerie distressed Spanish Central American Gothic, which is perfect for the show.

I'm reminded of Geoffrey Rush's line from the movie, "Shakespeare in Love", when he says that producing a play is always chaos, but it always turns out alright on the day - "Nobody knows [how it happens] ... it's a mystery!"

The miracle continues through the afternoon rehearsal, as light and sound levels and cues are set for the first time, competing with the daylight streaming in from the upper windows, which haven't been blocked off yet, and the very vocal birds, as well as the drum-like stage that magnifies the sound of footsteps and the echoing quality of the nearly empty hall.
Several hairpieces for the leads, along with women to dress them, arrive mid-way through the afternoon. Fatima, our new abuela loca (crazy grandmother), who is supposed to have a long grey or white braid, appears at one point looking like Malibu Rapunzel in an improbably full, curly, long, ash-blonde synthetic wig, which will have to be dealt with later.

But the actresses are coming into their own, and begin to truly use the stage, and the stagehands and dressers see what happens when they miss cues. Cleaning away all the detritus of the set-up continues non-stop, and soon it's time to head home to get dressed up for the opening events - all the anthems and speeches and official presentations that have been arranged to placate the demands of the owner of the theatre in return for its use. (Very long story - not getting into it here.)

Lisa and I arrive back at the theatre to find that the speeches are in progress, but the actresses are getting dressed before the dressers have arrived and no one has done anything to tame the Rapunzel wig, apart from pinning it back even higher and bigger, so we try to wrestle it into some braids (flashback to ill-fated attempts to re-style doll hair...). We rejoin the invited preview audience to see a wonderful slideshow of the whole building process at both Es Artes and Escuela Taller that Koky put together from all our various photos, and hear that the official presentations will be made at a later date, as The Man Himself decided not to attend after all(!). So, all the welcoming completed, with a couple of very loud clicks the house lights go out, the music comes up and the play begins.

And it's truly magic. It's a small audience, but they are completely rivetted on the performance - no coughs, no fidgets, people leaning forward, absorbed in every moment of the play. And the performances have ramped up a few notches from the afternoon's rehearsal - all the actresses are in top form, including the new abuela, who is excellent in the role. The soundscape is wonderful, the birds are silent (although one appears briefly during the dinner scene, courtesy of one of the stagehands, who planted it in a prop), the bats are absent, the lighting cues work, the quick-change in Act II is accomplished with only a minor glitch in a complete blackout for the first time, the finale is breath-taking, the applause heart-felt and resounding - and we have a show!

Afterwards, all the cast and crew, along with the Es Artes staff and volunteers, are invited to a reception with drinks and nibbles at Los Alamendros, and from there most of the Stratford group head with Koky, who has arranged to keep the kitchen open late, to El Gringo's other place, the bar El Necio, for more drinks and a very late dinner - a wonderful evening all around, especially when Tatiana announces that there is no need for another rehearsal tomorrow afternoon, before the 'real' opening in the evening, so we can all sleep in and deal with any further notes at a more leisurely pace!

The only sour note comes on the walk home when we have to scatter quickly to avoid being hit by a drunk driver going at top speed down the otherwise empty street. Koky recognizes him as a local trouble-maker with a history of DUIs, and reports him to the police, whose station is on our way, and we all get home without futher incident - he takes such good care of us! It's only on the last leg of the walk that I realize that this was Remembrance Day back in Canada, and how completely out-of-touch with the rest of the world, and how utterly absorbed in this one we have all become.

Friday - a lie-in and a late breakfast, then over to Es Artes to clean and re-organize the wardrobe workspace until mid- afternoon; over to the theatre to check that everything is ready for the evening (it is), and do the last few tweaks. The students are scrubbing walls and chairs, and mopping and sweeping floors, and everything is shining! We (the volunteers) are now redundant, so we head off to dinner and to change for the Grand Opening.

The theatre is nearly full and once again the audience is incredibly attentive. The performances are even more passionate and nuanced than the day before, and the curtain call, which includes all the backstage crew and the Es Artes staff, and a bouquet of flowers for Tatiana, is a roaring celebration! Afterwards, on the sidewalk outside the theatre, many of the audience members stay to buttonhole both the Canadians and the Es Artes staff to discuss the production and say how much they enjoyed it and how impressed they were, and when the actress playing Bernarda appears to join her husband and son, she is met with a spontaneous round of applause and congratulations.

Afterwards, the entire company and their guests head over to Villa Balanza, where they are hosting the opening night party, and proceed to dance the night away. (Check with Mark Smith for incriminating photos and video footage...) All the Salvadorans seem to be incredible dancers, and the kids, in particular, have 'got it goin' on!' - everyone is encouraged to join in and strut their stuff, to huge cheers and much laughter.

Saturday - the theatre is cleared of all props and costumes and the set pieces moved off-stage in preparation for another theatre company who are arriving for an afternoon rehearsal and an evening performance of Los Tres Cochinitos y el Fero Lobo (The Three Little Pigs and the Wild Wolf), again at the behest of the theatre owner, who celebrates his birthday every year with a free public performance of this type for the children of the community, complete with a huge birthday cake - his 'largesse'.

For the rest of us it is a full day off to finally pursue other interests and see more of what the area has to offer - several go down to the lake for zip-lining and boat tours to the bird island, while four of us hire a driver to take us for some tourist exploration and retail therapy in the towns of Ilobasco, known for its ceramics and crafts, and San Sebastian, famous for its weavers and textiles, some of which were commissioned for the play. Later, we all meet to compare notes and share stories of our adventures at Lupita's in the square, where there is a music festival going on, and still later, to our favourite pizza place, Xela's (pronounced Chela's), for a more intimate musical performance with one of the visiting groups in the incredible courtyard, which extends down several terraces on one of the steep hills that the town it built on.

Tatiana tells us that the students have all gone home for the day as many of them have important duties as part of their families' livelihood, and the time they have had to commit to this is causing a good deal of stress to the family units. She also tells us of one young boy whom she found crying last night at the party, from a combination of exhaustion, homesickness and disappointment that the girl he asked didn't want to dance with him... all the dramas of life. All the girls from out of town who stay over in Suchi for events like this, and will be going to San Salvador, are chaperoned and looked after by Zoila in her home, while all the boys are supervised by Mario at Es Artes.

One of the actresses joins us to report that she had been recognized and stopped in the street several times by people who had seen the play and were very complimentary, and that there is a definite buzz on as people plan to attend the other performances on Sunday and Monday. Several hardy-partiers continue on to the neighbourhood disco to finish the night, and plans are made for a group photo at the theatre tomorrow morning before Mark and Arlene head back to Canada.

photo courtesy of Mark Smith via Tim Hanson

Sunday - back to the theatre to check on the reset for the two performances at 11:00 and 3:00 - everything seems well in hand, although there is a great deal more cleaning to be done, as the lobby looks like the aftermath of a frat party with the remains of cake ground into the floor. But the students set to with a will to help the two regular cleaners, as Tito and a couple of the boys cover the upper windows to block out the sunlight, and there is only a fifteen minute delay to the start.

We hear that The Man Himself has finally deigned to attend, and Koky, who steps in as House Manager when the actual House manager and three of the ushers are no-shows with no notice, takes charge of seating and attending to him with 'all due deference' - Koky is a born diplomat and facilitator, consciencious above and beyond the call and a godsend to this group and this project. There is another large and attentive audience, and they seem to be much more responsive to the ironies and lighter moments of the play, which brings a different energy to the performance. The Man remains for the entire show and appears to enjoy it.

The second show has an even larger audience, and Evelyn reports that several people have come back (and paid) for a second time! Lisa and I indulge in a bit more retail therapy about town and settle at Los Alamendros to wait for the meeting at the theatre at five to sort out the logistics of the strike after the Monday performances and the move to San Salvador on Tuesday. About quarter to five we hear that the meeting is postponed to six and moved to Los Alamendros; by quarter to six, plans have changed again as the cast and crew have been invited to yet another reception at the mayor's son's house down by the lake, and Tito proceeds to shuttle us there in several groups. (Kris travelling in the back of the truck is marked by cries of "la mannequin!" as we pass by.) We leave messages for Jeremy, Eric and Jenn, but wires get crossed and they are missed in the shuttle process, so we arrange to re-group for a late dinner later on back at Los Alamendros, and the meeting is postponed till the morning.

Monday, Nov. 15 - another two shows to finish the run in Suchitoto. All the staff and students from Escuela Taller attend the first one, and seem very pleased and proud of the results of their work. Tim takes some photos of the entire group with the cast and crew and all of us, at the end of the performance.

The second show has a much smaller but still very appreciative audience and the striking of the show is accomplished with speed and efficiency. The logistics of the move have all been sorted out, and we have decided to spend our last two days in El Salvador, after the gala on Thursday, at the beach, courtesy of Koky (who knows a guy... and arranges a place for us all to stay Friday and Saturday till we have to head to the airport on Sunday).

For dinner we head back to the Villa Balanza rooms that have hosted all the barbeques for a final evening of pupusas and beer, then home to pack for the morning. One of the many topics of conversation revolves around the various flavours of pupusa, as there are both savory and sweet fillings, and the tortillas can be made from either corn or rice flour. Kris comments that the closest Canadian equivalent to the sweet ones is known as a 'beaver tail', and describes it for Evelyn. This leads to a digression about what a beaver is, which in turn, has Evelyn asking, with some concern, if the animal is dead before we fry its tail. We hasten to assure her that the pastry does not involve the actual animal, but is only named that because it looks like a beaver's tail. After this confusion is cleared up amid much laughter on both sides, Evelyn mentions that the word pupusa has another, ruder connotation and we all howl again as we tell her that so does beaver - yet another cross-cultural exchange.

Our itinerary for our final week is:

Tuesday - pack everything, drive to San Salvador and load into the National Theatre before 3 pm, then settle in the hotel. As the hotel and theatre are some distance apart, we have the services of a driver who will ferry us back and forth, but we need to travel in groups for greater efficiency and security.

Wednesday - set up and co-ordination with the theatre staff.

Thursday - all the actors and students arrive, have an afternoon rehearsal and the evening Gala opening. (There are three more evening performances - Friday , Saturday, Sunday - then they are hoping to be able to store the show there for its second engagement in December.)

Friday - post-mortem wrap-up and next-stage planning discussions with Es Artes and Antoni Cimolino, who will be attending the Gala. Then the Stratford crew head to the ocean with Koky for some sand and surf.

Sunday - back to Stratford for everyone but Lisa, who has another two weeks to work with the students on their other projects and, hopefully, connect with the women's co-operative and the dyers for some further cultural and skill sharing.

That's it for now as we load the trucks... later from the big city!


  1. WOW Kim! What a great adventure!
    I'm so impressed with your new-found Spanish.
    And aren't those cross-cultural moments something else? (pupusas and beavers- who knew?)
    I hope you'll be home (i.e. Wpg) for Christmas- can't wait to hear more stories!

  2. Congratulations!! Sounds like a successful outcome. Well done!!