Thursday, November 11, 2010

Week Seven ... and a half...

Sorry for the delay in posting this one - we've been a bit busy here...

begun Thursday, Nov. 4

Monday - Zoila begins the alterations from the Sunday fittings, while the ladies continue completing the house-dresses, and I cut and prep three of the last four blouses. Eric is still down for the count, which is worrying, but Jenn seems to have him in hand. Work on the set continues at Escuela. Kris is feeling the frustrations we have all experienced when expectations and pressure to perform/produce (our own and others) meet the realities of resource management here - the tickets have not yet been printed, and her house management team of students is variable at best.

Tuesday - La Dia de los Muertos - first complete day off (enforced, as this is a very important national holiday) - morning by the pool, massage therapy from Arlene, nap most of the afternoon, catch up on e-mails, Harlequin for dinner and early to bed - my personal spa vacation! Kris and Jeremy, Mark and Arlene and others head to the cemetery with some of the Es Artes kids who came up with the idea of doing some fund-raising for the project by offering their services (and paint) to paint the tombs, which is one of the many traditions associated with Day of the Dead festivities and observances in El Salvador.

photos courtesy of Jeremy Bernard

Wednesday/Thursday - scrambling to finish everything for Sunday, last blouse finally cut out, other six proceeding in various stages of assembly. Zoila overdyes one of the trims for the Bernarda dress, and continues with the alterations. Gloria, ever keen and enthusiastic, takes care of pressing, basting, basic seams and hems (all the while keeping up a machine-gun volley of gossip and commentary - she is definitely the fastest talker I have ever encountered in any language, and leaves her fellow Salvadorans, who are no slouches themselves, in the dust!) Morena has taken on the extensive handwork of the Bernarda dress as her "baby". Amalia is mastering all the frills and ruffles and finishings of the blouses. I bounce from piece to piece, trying to keep one step ahead of them prepping for el proximo paso (the next step) on each garment, and re-vamp one of the skirts which had to be modified to suit a different bodytype from its original design.

At the Thursday morning production meeting, a few forgotten items emerge to add to the list - multiple and multi-coloured hair ribbons for the servants to be made from their skirt fabrics and a colourful flowered panuelo for one of the daughters (mentioned in the script, but no fabric was ever purchased for it, and it slipped between the cracks of prop and costume). Kris and Arlene offer to scout the local shops for fabric, but as I pass the rack of donated costumes I spot a flowered dress which can be cut up (with Tatiana's approval) for the required piece. Jenn and Jane obligingly take on attaching the elastic laces to the boot-top spats. Arlene cuts up the hair ties.

continued Sunday, Nov. 7

Friday - it's all about the poop! - not only does the theatre have to be continually cleared of the leavings of it's resident bats, but we were informed that the truck that has been arranged for transporting the set units from Escuela to the theatre last carried cows, so that will have to be cleaned before it is used as well! (As this isn't normally a consideration that comes up in production meetings in Canada, it provided some levity all around the table, as we were reminded of the very different realities, norms and expectations we are working with here.)

Still a great deal to do to transform the stage from its current state (painting the floor and masking the gold brocade curtain that forms the current backdrop; also legs and borders to mask the wings which are completely open to view beyond the rudimentary proscenium). Plans are made to organize the Es Artes students for painting and the Escuela students for moving, installing and assembling the set pieces. Jeremy and Eric make plans for hanging the lights and upgrading the electrical system to at least grounded (!) (A great deal more can be said about this, but I have neither the time nor the expertise to go into it here - buy them a beer later for the full story...) Eric has made a full recovery from both his digestive issues, thanks to the wonderful staff at the clinic here, and his burn, thanks to some magical purple ointment with amazing healing properties.

Kris informs us of the schedule for the media day next Tuesday, which will cut into all of our tight work schedules, but is most important to put a face on the project for the press and ScotiaBank, which is a major sponsor. Mark has ordered Es Artes logo t-shirts for all the Canadian volunteers, which have now arrived, and we will all be wearing them for the photo ops at the town hall with the mayor, and at Escuela Taller with the students, showing off their work.

Lisa Hughes, Stratford's costume breakdown and fabric painting specialist arrives to warm welcomes and is immediately thrown into the mix - seconded to sets to help with the painting of all the furniture pieces. As there are several conventions in town and the usual hotels are booked, she is given a room in the hotel on the square, which currently looks directly out on the ferris wheel from the carnival which is still in town. She takes this with good humour as she knows how busy everyone is and that she will be moved as soon as possible. As the whole scheduled CUSO-VSO volunteer team is now here, Es Artes hosts the requisite 'in-country training' session, which, in our case, is a presentation of the history, goals and challenges of the Es Artes project and how it relates to all its partners, the community of Suchitoto and El Salvador as a whole. As this is combined with a very pleasant and much-needed social evening and dinner at Los Alamendros, it proves very enlightening and enjoyable.

Saturday - last big push for the costumes trying to get everything there for first technical rehearsal (and final fittings, since we haven't had access to the San Salvador cast since last week). Zoila sends her son home to bring her own sewing machine in to do all the buttonholes, since the one supposedly brought in for that purpose does not work. Final trims and fastenings always take three times as long as planned, even under the best conditions, but valiant efforts are made and the ladies get the bulk of it done before they have to leave at four. I have to concede defeat (or at least a postponement) on the final blouse, which is for one of the minor characters, in favour of completing all of the lead costumes - the major factor in the delay is that it is a different colour from the rest of the pieces we are currently working on, and we can't afford the time delay that changing thread and dedicating one machine to that piece alone would cause when we need all available resources and machines to finish the other pieces - so be it. I take the last of the buttons and snaps back to my room to finish with late night TV.

continued Wednesday, Nov. 10

Sunday - the change from daylight savings catches us unawares, as there is no change here (this close to the equator, days and nights are equal all year long), however, all our (the volunteers') electronic clocks on cell phones and computers, being on Canadian time settings, switch over automatically. My watch battery died a couple of weeks ago, and I haven't been able to replace it yet, so I've been using my cell phone and taking into account the two hour time difference. This morning I thought I was actually going to make it in early to work, only to find that I was fifteen minutes late, and needed desayuno (breakfast) to go.

Final fittings of all the newly completed costumes go very well with relatively few tweaks needed. Pictures are taken for the show bible and to send to John - my camera batteries run out half way through the process, but Jeremy comes to the rescue and arranges to give me copies from his camera via my USB stick (love the technology!) The rehearsal proves very interesting (to say the least) as the actresses compete with the extremely vocal birds in the rafters who fly freely throughout the scenes (they were here first and no one seems concerned with evicting them at this point, although efforts are being made to install bat-repellers which have worked very well at Es Artes). The dollar-store garment bags we had Frank bring with him when he arrived will be used to protect the costumes from droppings when they remain on the racks overnight, but at the moment all the clothes are packed back in their plastic storage boxes to be trucked back to Es Artes after each rehearsal for notes and checking.

For anyone truly interested, click the link to see a whole slide show of the costumes - photos courtesy of both Jeremy and myself - sorry. no time for labels to tell you who is who...

At this point, the blog posting has been so delayed by the long days and late nights and the intermittent internet access, I may as well fill you in on the next three days and bring you up to the moment.

Monday, Nov. 8 - The ladies return to do the notes and work on the last blouse. Zoila and Lisa do some breakdown on the servant blouses and aprons to make them look a little more lived in. Before the ladies leave, I arrange to meet them next week to treat them to lunch and discuss future work and how they can stay involved with Es Artes.

Major problems have appeared with the lighting system on many fronts which Jeremy, Eric and Tito are working to solve, with some possible help arriving from Stratford on Wednesday.

Tickets have still not arrived, but Kris and Koky are working all the businesses in town putting up posters and encouraging orders. A suggestion (which we had joked about a week or so ago) was made by one of the local businessmen that the most effective form of local advertising is the loudspeaker truck that goes by regularly (whenever you have a meeting, in particular), promoting sales of everything from vegetables to salt to all-purpose medicinal cure-alls. Kris, Jeremy and Tatiana brainstorm a script and pick students to record the announcement to get it out as soon as possible.

I meet with Zoila and the two student dressers (one of whom is not available for all the performances, and the alternate is not there today) to explain their duties and responsibilities and have them dress Jane (who translates and stands in for one of the actresses so they can practise).

Eric falls down a ladder while rigging the lights and curtains, but escapes with only a minor scrape. The new black curtains turn out to be eighteen inches too short, so Elizabeth is called to add pieces to them.

Tuesday - Media Day - T-shirts on, we all scrub up and smile for the press - several major Salvadoran TV channels, national and local papers - at the press conference with ScotiaBank and the mayor, and back at Escuela with the welding, carpentry and sewing students. Then several of us attend a meeting with Tatiana and the ScotiaBank representatives to report on our experiences and opinions on how the project is working and the effect on the community (positive and optimistic, while recognizing the many challenges they face). A scene with two of the lead actresses is filmed at the theatre; the media and VIPs have lunch at the lake and everything goes off on time and without a hitch.

In the afternoon, Zoila and I put the finishing touches on the blouse and the last of the notes, and Zoila alters Es Artes shirts to serve as part of the uniform for the students who are working as ushers and attendants at the theatre. Official dress for the theatre is a problem for many of the students as they are from rural communities with very few resources and may own only one pair of shoes and no 'dress' clothing. Es Artes provides them with sweat pants and t-shirts to wear for their theatre classes where most of them go barefoot to save the wear on those shoes. Finding black pants and the money to buy them is a major challenge, so once again the call goes out to Stratford, and Melissa has promised to see what she can bring with her tomorrow.

Wednesday - two quite magical theatre events occur. First, Kris reports that yesterday one of the students who had not been chosen as one of her ushers, came to her with great determination to show her his clean hands and nails and tell her that he could get black pants and shoes, and please could he be a' facilitator', too? (Break your heart, or what?) On the other side of the coin, our on-again-off-again dresser has opted out, which is to be expected, as she has proved generally unreliable in all the dealings I've had with her.

Secondly, we are informed that after a heated discussion toward the end of last night's rehearsal, the young actress/dancer playing the grandmother has quit the show! When I ask who will now play the part, I'm told that one of the students playing the servants (Fatima Adriana, who is one of the students appearing in the Stratford/Suchitoto YouTube video) is quickly learning the part and almost fits the dress, so I head over to the theatre to see about the alterations, which turn out to be reasonably simple. Can you believe it? The understudy gets her big break as the diva burns her bridges! Classic!

The loudspeaker truck goes by with the Bernarda Alba advertisement and it sounds terrific!

A couple of very flattering photos from yesterday's staged scene (Bernarda and her eldest daughter) have made the front page of the national paper's Arts and Leisure section along with a promotional article, and everyone is very pleased and excited. The flyer handouts arrive and there are a few walk-in enquiries at the office.

In the midst of all this, Melissa Renaud, interim co-ordinator at the Stratford end (filling in for Robbin Cheesman, who is on maternity leave with her new daughter, Emily) and Tim Hansen, lighting and electrical wiz from Stratford, arrive bearing black pants for the ushers and (hopefully) suitable dimmers and connectors for the lighting board, along with their support to bolster the troops. Eric, Lisa and Arlene prepare the organza drops. Mark treats his and Frank's Escuela students to a tour of the theatre to see their set on stage, and a pizza lunch at Es Artes. And after lunch, I check on the rehearsal and try to catch up on this blog...

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