Applied Theatre I (Mexico)
Photos and Captions by Lee Ann Searight
What happens when you hide babies in sweet bread and ask theatre people to find them??? Our hosts at the Universidad de las Americas in Puebla (UDLA) shared one of Mexico's oldest traditions, Rosca de Reyes, with us the day before Three Kings Day. Here are some of the lucky mothers! We travelled to Mexico in January with 40 other Steinhardt students for a graduate course in Applied Theatre, taught by Christina Marin, an assistant professor in educational theatre. The goal of the course was to examine the theoretical and practical connections between Freirean pedagogy and Boalian theatre practice in the context of the Mexican environment. We would also investigate a range of genres in applied theatre including community theatre, social justice theatre, intergenerational theatre, and theatre for development. For the course, we read works by Paulo Freire, Philip Taylor, and Helen Nicolson, which laid the foundation for our explorations in Mexico.
Cholula, Mexico. Chrissy stands in front of the remains of the oldest known pyramid in Mexico, dating back to the pre-classic period. Topping the pyramid is a Catholic Church. Behind Chrissy are three walls: each wall represents a different, distinct phase in Cholula's history and the pyramid's expansion. It was the first time I felt as if an archeologist and a theatre educator had similar jobs: looking at a larger picture and trying to discern the differing layers in order to make sense of things. While we learned much about the architecture and phases of construction, I was most fascinated by the information given to us by our wonderfully charismatic tour guide, a professor of anthropology at UDLA. Apparently, the only ones allowed to climb to the top of the pyramids were the high priests. If anyone else climbed up, it was because they were sacrifed to the gods and their lifeless body would later be thrown down the side. Very dramatic...
As part of our studies in Mexico, small groups constructed final projects that integrated our academic studies into theatre. Javier Cardona and Julia Colluram set up for one of the final projects. Our group led a session on mask making and ritual, inspired by the stories of Mesoamerica. Our project was very ritualistic and involved the making of masks, exploring the characters that arose out of them, and using them as an offering to our generous hosts in Cholula. While our own project was designed for 8th graders, other group projects crossed a wide range of age groups and ideas. Our fellow students tackled everything from creating a workshop for teachers to help them "Break Barriers and Build Bridges," to proposing a year long, intergenerational and intercultural project involving playmaking. Very creative stuff!!!
One of my favorite dishes: Molcajetes! This sizzling chicken dishes is served in a clay mortar, topped with Oaxacan cheese. It's yummy, and clears the sinuses! During our travels in Puebla, Mexico City, and Cholula, we sampled a vast array of food. We also had the pleasure of seeing several plays. One of the plays, called "Mujer no se escribe con M de Macho (Woman is not written with an "M" for Macho), fit well with our own applied theatre mission in that the theatre company created the play based on the needs of the community and then toured the show. We also witnessed a rehearsal for a children's show based on the disuse and near extinction of the Aztec native language, Nowatl. And through talking with a struggling artist and UDLA alum we learned that actors struggle as much in Mexico in the pursuit of steady work and respect as they do in the U.S.!
We all stood gaping at the colorful Diego Rivera frescos that line the second floor of El Palacio Nacional De Mexico in Mexico City. This one, the largest, reflects Mexico's history since the Spanish Conquest. This trip really opened my eyes to the history and culture of the Mexican people. It was and still is a place fraught with drama which makes it a perfect place to explore as a theatre pracitioner. It is always important, especially where applied theatre is concerned, that the visitor humble themself in order to allow the culture and the issues demanding attention to present themselves. We kept reminding ourselves during this trip that applied theatre is not about "helping" people. It's about engaging in dialogue and educating one another.