Hard to believe that two years have gone by since our last performance of one of our theatrical programs in front of a live audience. That occurred in January of 2020 at the Charleston Museum in Charleston, SC, and we had no idea at the time that it was going to be our theatre company’s swan song. Shortly thereafter, the world began shutting down; and it was pretty much the end of the line for our careers as performers — we decided that when things started rolling again, we would just focus on teaching kids to perform instead. But now, two years later, almost to the day, we finally gave another performance, of sorts.
As soon as our hosts at South American Language Center had learned that we were entertainers by trade, they pitched the idea of our doing some kind of performance in conjunction with our volunteer activities teaching English. But it was one of their teachers who pushed to actually make it happen — an amiable woman named Amara. She suggested mounting an event on a Saturday in the park, with us performing a story, getting the students involved in theatre games, and — since she’d also learned that Dennis is a poet — also making poetry part of the occasion. Oh, is that all?
There were several challenges we had to meet here. First, we had to come up with a story we could perform that would be both interesting to adults and understood by non-native English speakers. And it had to be something we could resurrect easily, without a great deal of rehearsal, and with little or no dependence on props and costumes. And we also had to come up with a number of poems that would be interesting and substantial, yet short and easily understood, with fairly simple vocabulary. And we had to come up with a way to get participants involved with those poems beyond just listening to them being read or recited. Oh, and we had to find a suitable location in the park to present it all — a place that was conspicuous and easy to find, yet not too busy or noisy, and offered appropriate space both for performing and participation.
"The Tortoise and the Hare" sans sets, costumes and props. Photos by Amara
As it happened, we already had a good candidate for a tale: The Tortoise and the Hare, which is a story that can be enjoyed by all ages, and is familiar to most people, so a language barrier isn’t such an obstacle (especially given our highly physical performance style). And it was one of the last stories we performed, so it was still fairly fresh, and would require only a little brushing up. Dennis managed to find a few poems that fit the criteria (including one of his own). And as for the theatre activities, we had a repertoire of quite a few, and had successfully tried them out only a few weeks earlier on a group of non-native English speakers in Mexico.
So the big day came, and we headed to the local park, Parque de las Flores, with the only props we would need: a stool borrowed from the school, a crudely homemade sign with an arrow (pointing in the direction of the racecourse the Tortoise and Hare followed), a bottle of “glue” (a.k.a. a TSA approved travel-sized bottle of sunscreen) and a jump rope. But since no jump ropes were readily available we hastily fashioned one out of our clothes line and a couple of shoelaces that we have squirreled away in our backpacks. The tree branch we figured we could find on site. There were already quite a few locals in the park, including some engaged in group activities. But we staked out what was probably the best available venue: the steps in front of the huge Ambato sign. Certainly not ideal, but also certainly not the worst place we’d ever performed.
Then we waited. Gradually, our students and their guests began to trickle in. And before we knew it, we had an assembly of about 40 people — far more than we’d expected.
Group Theatre Exercises
First up was our performance, and we’re happy to report that despite our rustiness, we still haven’t lost our touch. It was, in fact, a pretty solid performance that did justice to our brand. Then we adjourned the audience to a grassy area nearby to run them through some theatre games, which they quite enjoyed. And they executed quite creatively.
Performing Poetry - Act!vated Story Theatre style
Then, after performing a handful of poems for them, we distributed copies of other poems — they got to pick which one they wanted to present. And then partnered with whoever else had the same poem they chose. And after a little while to rehearse and plan their presentations, they were on “stage” for their peers.
The South American Language Center students and teachers dramatically performing poetry in English - January 29th
The choices they made in staging the poems were imaginative, and their presentations were expressive — even with their occasional pronunciation difficulties. In short, this entire event was a huge success, and those attending thoroughly enjoyed it. We were not even fazed by the ice cream vendor who stopped his cart in the middle of our “stage” and tried to hawk his wares while festivities were in progress.
Performing and Poetry in the Park
Breathing a sigh of relief, we were ready to celebrate by taking another weekend getaway to Baños de Agua Santa.
More shots from our time in Ambato taken the week of January 25-29th
January 25-29, 2022