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SPAN 449: A Drama Class without Borders

April 2, 2014

Rosita and Cocolichio [Photo by Valeria Koulikova]

Rosita and Cocoliche [Photo by Valeria Koulikova]

Bravissimo! to the students of the SPAN 449 for putting on a fun and saucy Spanish play, Los titeres de Cachiporra by Federico Garcia Lorca. Although more than half the cast had no formal drama training, they created believable characters and a show everybody could enjoy, even people like me who don’t speak Spanish.

The Billy-Club Puppets (Los titeres de Cachiporra) was originally written for puppet theater. The story follows a young girl, Rosita, who is in love with charismatic but poor Cocoliche. Rosita’s father tells her to get married to help with the family’s finances. However, to Rosita’s horror, it wasn’t Cocoliche she was expected to marry but the ugly, fat, billy-club wielding Don Cristobita. To make poor Rosita’s life even more complicated, an old love, Currito, turns up in town to take her back. Among all the commotion with Rosita’s juggling her three admirers, drunken bar fights, and random poems and dancing, the barber giving Don Cristobita a haircut reveals that Cristobita is simply a puppet! Though it was already too late because Rosita had already married him while – wait for it – Cocoliche and Currito were hiding in her bedroom’s closets. When Cristobita blows up out of rage after finding out about the two lovers, Rosita and Cocoliche happily get back together.

The wedding [Photo by Valeria Koulikova]

The wedding [Photo by Valeria Koulikova]

I was a little skeptical about whether I would understand anything happening on stage. Though I studied Spanish in high school, these days I can only pick out certain words and phrases. But while there were times when I was a bit confused about what exactly was happening, the cast made up for it. The actors, not quite sure whether they were humans, puppets, or both, approached the play in a fun and at times exaggerated manner, filling the stage with over-the-top movements and emotions, not letting me take my eyes off the performance.

Spanish Drama and Play Production (SPAN 499) is a very popular course among Spanish Studies students. Advisors in the department are always encouraging students to register for the course, not just because it’s fun but also because it’s challenging and rewarding.

“I see tremendous growth in students’ language abilities in this course,” said Anna Witte, the instructor. “In order to perform a role, you have to understand the nuances of the language; you have to get not only the pronunciation right, but also the intonation. My interest in theater and storytelling in Spanish grows out of the conviction that the best learning happens when you own a story, when you get into character, as an actor and as a storyteller.”

The course is offered once a year during the winter quarter, with auditions held at the end of the fall. The students don’t just memorize their lines and perform in the play. They produce the entire production as well. The students made their own costumes, the set, props, and even made the puppets – that were mimicking what the actors were doing on stage.

Lyudmila Kim as Mosquito and Don Cristobita [Photo by Valeria Koulikova]

Lyudmila Kim as Mosquito and Don Cristobita [Photo by Valeria Koulikova]

Lyudmila Kim, who was one of the actors, says that students who are shy or not sure whether they want to perform or sing in the show shouldn’t let it stop them from considering taking the course.

“If you really didn’t want to sing or have a big role on stage, then Anna would figure out a way for you to still be involved,” Lyudmila said. “We had people who didn’t want to perform be stage managers or be in charge of making props. We had a great team with everybody contributing and helping each other. I already miss it!”

Everybody was having fun and enjoying the show both on stage and behind the scenes. Some people had enjoyed the class so much that they asked their advisers if they could take it again! Spanish majors, look out for the course next year when it is taken to another level. It will be offered at the UW Leon Center in Spain next winter in a different format called Theater in Translation, where students will translate an American play and perform it for the local theater.

The play was one of the highlights in my winter quarter as well. It was so memorable that I still can’t get one of the catchy songs out of my head! Con el vito vito vito…

The billy-club swinging Cristobita and the barber [Photo by Valeria Koulikova]

The billy-club swinging Cristobita and the barber [Photo by Valeria Koulikova]

The cast of Los titeres de Cachipora [Photo by Valeria Koulikova]

The cast of Los titeres de Cachipora [Photo by Valeria Koulikova]

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