ArtCorps Artist Naphtali Fields takes us to the scene of the first cultural festival in a village in El Salvador, where five youth, a flatbed truck, a soccer field and some original plays made history.
Guayapa’s theater group is made up of five dedicated young people. Elias recently married, lives a half hour’s walk away from our night rehearsal space, and still commits to performing. As a child of ten, Javier watched robbers shoot his father when he was too slow to reach for his wallet. The man of the family, he works in the fields all day and practices theater at night. Jeimee’s father is gone too, but in the United States as an illegal immigrant. She’s shy and quiet, but still manages to scream in the play when she drowns in the river. Miguel only studied till 3rd grade and has trouble reading his parts. But he memorizes them quickly and spends rehearsals making sure everyone else is staying on task. Blanca is Santa Maria’s daughter, my adopted sister. Her health is bad, but she is involved in so many different community groups I can’t keep track of them all.
These five young people did all the work of imagining and creating a cultural festival in their soccer field, the first one ever. In a country where differences are laughed at and creativity isn’t valued they had the courage to do something new. And it was a success. Yes, we started three hours late and the sound system was fuzzy and I felt like an acrobat juggling all the problems in the program. But local people saw their neighbors and friends participate in art-making about community life. They saw scenes from their own lives on stage and saw some possible solutions to problems they face enacted and embodied by people they know. There was laughter and whistles and comments as the actors began each performance. Women sold traditional drinks and food on the sidelines and little boys kicked around soccer balls in between acts.
Guayapa’s youth not only gave their community the gift of theater on Saturday, they gave them the gift of laughter, of creative expression, of life outside the hard daily routine. The group has learned how to act on stage, now they are becoming actors for change in their village. They want to host another festival next year with more plays and more community participation. And so a culture of art begins in Guayapa Arriba, El Salvador. May it continue and spread for years to come!
This project is being carried out in collaboration with Servicio Jesuita para el Desarrollo and Oxfam America.