ArtCorps Artist Naphtali Fields shares the accomplishments of two valiant groups of young people who never dreamed of taking the stage.
The first was an adapted version of Romeo and Juliet, Salvadoran-style. Of the fifteen teens who started in the group, few came to more than a few meetings in a row. Two days ago only half showed up to rehearsal. The rest had failed their classes for the year and were grounded. It looked like their first play wouldn’t happen. The youth all come from difficult home situations and a tough urban neighborhood ridden with gangs, drugs and crime; they have a hard time being responsible and respecting each other, let alone learning their lines.
Yet somehow, once again, the magic of the theater prevailed. Romeo, a boy who leads his own mini-gang and starts schoolyard fights, carefully guarded the rose he had plucked for Juliet. He helped me set up the stage, listened quietly to my instructions, and his first performance in public was a huge success. Each once-distracted girl or bad-attitude guy was motivated and worked together to present a beautiful play that communicated messages about domestic violence and abuse of power.
The second play about gender-based violence was performed by the youth group from Palmeras, a village about 10 miles outside of town. Niña Nati came to watch her daughter Aracely act for the first time. Niña Nati can’t read and she sat in the back of the theater, clearly overwhelmed by its lavishness. When Aracely entered as a grumpy mother-in-law wearing her mother’s clothes, Niña Nati was proud as punch. Afterwards I asked her how she liked the play. “Oh, it was wonderful,” she replied, smiling, “but Aracely makes a very mean mother-in-law.”
After the performances, Aracely and I sat in the park eating ice cream. We talked about her dreams to study agriculture to work in rural communities and help poor farmers diversify their crops and take better care of their land. “I used to think the most I could do was work in someone’s house as their housekeeper,” she said between licks of the strawberry cone, “but slowly all these doors have been opened for me and now, even though my mother can’t sign her name, I’m planning on getting a university degree…I never could have imagined it a few years ago.”
This project is being carried out in collaboration with Servicio Jesuita para el Desarrollo and Oxfam America.