Last week in the Assembly Room a small group of Upper School students took to the stage to perform a play for their families and teachers. Performances occur several times throughout each year at Chapin, but this time something was different. For the first time, students were performing their play entirely in Spanish!
The group of actors, made up of nine Class 10 students and one Class 11 student, had recently completed a new winter FOCUS course, “Theatre in Spanish,” with Upper School Spanish Teacher Andrés Party. While other FOCUS courses are open to any Upper School student, this course was designed specifically for those who are currently studying the Spanish language. During the course, which ran from the end of November through early March, the group read “The House of Bernarda Alba,” by Federico García Lorca, one of the most famous Spanish plays of the 20th century, and prepared to perform it in full for a live audience on April 12.
“It is the cultivation of seeds we planted years ago because this is the first generation of Upper School students who started Spanish in Lower School, and it is because of the success of that program that they were able to perform this play,” Sr. Party explained. “As a foreign language teacher, it’s very impressive.”
The play, which was first performed in 1945, is a drama about a group of women living together in a village in Spain. Bernarda, a 60-year-old woman, has just lost her second husband and forces her household – including five daughters, a housekeeper, a maid, and her elderly mother – into an 8-year period of mourning. Both this mourning period and the eldest daughter’s attractive new fiancé cause tension and bring up issues amongst the family, which end in the accidental death of one of the daughters.
The students, who were each assigned a role based on theatre experience and personal interest, had to learn the play quickly, sometimes relying on Sr. Party to help them understand exactly what their characters’ lines meant. “The text is very poetic,” he noted. With their teacher’s guidance, the students memorized their scripts and began rehearsals during class time.
On the day of their big performance, the students gathered in the Assembly Room for final run-throughs. In one corner, a group gathered around the piano to warm up their voices as their classmate played “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey, while others scurried backstage, assembling their costumes. The stage was set with tables and chairs, microphones and bright lights. “It’s looking beautiful. Now we actually have to do it,” Sr. Party said excitedly.
After some last minute adjustments to costumes – “You look like Dracula,” Sr. Party said with a laugh as one student walked on stage wrapped in a floor-length black robe – the students were ready to practice. “We need to run through it as many times as we can so we can really get into character!” one student enthusiastically exclaimed.
“¡Silencio!”Sr. Party said, commencing the rehearsal. They ran through each scene, breaking in between to work on entrances, timing, delivery and cues. “When I stroke the portrait, I think I’ll sit down on the stairs to make it more dramatic,” one student offered. “Even if it’s your favorite line, just keep going. Don’t look back,” Sr. Party advised another student interrupted by an early entrance. These small tweaks and thoughtful adjustments improved the scenes with each run-through. By the time their guests arrived for the final performance, the students were confident and ready for the show!
With detailed programs to aid the non-Spanish speakers in the audience, the play began. Each student was fully engrossed in the moment, truly embodying the character and creating a captivating production – entirely in Spanish – that delighted and impressed. The play’s success and the students’ fluency are just two concrete example of the benefits of introducing our students to the Spanish language at a young age.
Browse photos from the rehearsal below: