All the World’s a Stage … Or at Least Has a Stage

Living near DC, I had a world of cultural opportunities at my fingertips. There’s always some new exhibit or special event at one of the museums. I could easily pop out and try a new dish at an excellent Ethiopian, Bolivian, or Vietnamese restaurant nearby. The presence of all the world’s embassies enables Washingtonians to travel to far-off lands without even leaving the city.

And then there were the theaters. Washington has dozens of high-quality professional theaters bringing world class shows to the city as well as small, local groups pushing envelopes and bringing affordable theater to the masses. I ushered at four theaters and went to additional shows and programs besides, so I probably watched live theater at least 40 times a year.

Maria Elena is a little bit different. Keeping with the theme from a previous post of things I am grateful for, there IS a theater in town – but as I have mentioned before, you are not going to find Broadway’s latest hits here. However, I try to venture out to whatever shows I am able to get to in and around town.

I have seen a couple of concerts here, but the first remains the most memorable. In addition to a traditional lineup of symphonic hits, a school orchestra busted out some rock hits. This included, to my surprise, Guns N’ Roses’ Sweet Child O’ Mine … which a student sang IN ENGLISH. I was very impressed. After working with my students on preparing songs for Lollapalenglish, I know how much practice (and guts) it takes to get up in front of a crowd and sing in a foreign language.

I also saw a play in our local theater, which was interesting since, of course, it was performed entirely in Spanish. My Spanish level remains incomplete, but I get the general gist of things. Which worked perfectly because this play was very Shakespearean, both in content (a play-within-a-play dealing with the vices of human nature) and in style, as it used both meter and rhyme. There are many native English speakers that do not understand Shakespeare, so it felt the same as attending a performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Some of my favorite shows have been dance performances. Not only is dance beautiful, but it transcends languages. Everyone can enjoy it. Fortunately, Chileans (in my experience) LOVE to dance and are especially proud of their traditional, folkloric dances. This was especially prevalent in September, during the national holiday, but the elementary school also recently put on a grand showcase of traditional dances from all across South America. I hope the dancing never stops!

Another unique experience was attending a Santeferia concert on the beach in Tocopilla, a nearby town. For 12 years, this Chilean group has been bringing “cumbia casera” (house cumbia) to the masses. Quick Wikipedia research tells us that cumbia originated in Colombia (or possibly even Africa) as early as the 1820s, but gained popularity throughout South America with different countries putting their own spin on it. I can’t speak to its current popularity in other countries, but it has definitely experienced a resurgence in Chile. Everyone I talk to says they love cumbia and love going out to dance to cumbia.

The energy of the fans at the Santaferia concert certainly confirms that – everyone was dancing and singing along (except for me and my fellow gringas for obvious reasons) as flags and balloons flew through the crowd. Despite not knowing the words, I enjoyed myself immensely. I’ve even started to listen to some of Santeferia’s music at home. 🙂

Before coming here, I was nervous about what I was going to do for fun. Especially in a small town. But I am not nervous anymore. You don’t have to know the lyrics to appreciate a good song. You don’t have to understand the script to appreciate a play. You don’t have to know the culture and history of a dance to appreciate its beauty. Yeah, I don’t understand everything that is said around me, but I get a lot (my Spanish isn’t too terrible, and it improves day by day). It turns out what I have is enough.

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