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The Atlanta Journal - Constitution
Theater Launching Bilingual Experiment
BY DON FERNANDEZ
January 19, 2004
Come curtain call, Maria Parra will have her dialogue down and her performance fully envisioned in her mind.
Now if she only can remember which language to use.
"I'm kind of worried, like everyone else," said Parra, a local actress who has appeared everywhere from the Peachtree Playhouse to Theatre in the Square. "I've never done an English and Spanish version of the same play. But I'm so up for it. Let's bring this on."
Theatrical group Teatro del Sol aims to preserve Hispanic cultural heritage and cultivate a Spanish-speaking audience hungry for productions with Hispanic flavors and themes. In a move modestly described as ambitious, the upcoming plays will include performances of the same shows in both English and Spanish.
Duluth's Aurora Theatre is taking a bold artistic step by introducing this spinoff, the first of its kind in metro Atlanta and a rarity in the United States.
Performances are expected to begin in March, Thursdays through Sundays.
The idea is the brainchild of the Aurora Theatre's producing artistic director, Anthony Rodriguez, based on reasons both personal and pragmatic.
"When I first started here, a lot of my life changed after my mom died," said Rodriguez, who joined the Aurora in 1996 and is of Cuban descent. "As we started putting shows together, and as the shows increased, I thought it would be a nice tribute to my mom and my heritage. That's sort of the genesis."
That and the near-nonstop influx of Hispanic residents into Gwinnett. The county has the highest percentage of Hispanic residents in metro Atlanta, 13.4 percent of Gwinnett's population. Between 2000 and 2002, the number of Hispanics grew by more than 32 percent, and nearly 90,000 Hispanics now reside in Gwinnett.
Arena serves as showcase
The cultural impact of this swing is now beginning to blossom.
The Arena at Gwinnett Center, for example, has been showcasing such events as Lucha Libre, an acrobatic and colorful form of professional wrestling popular in Latin American countries, along with luring such artists as superstar Latin vocalist Luis Miguel to perform at the facility. The band Mana --- one of the biggest Hispanic rock groups in the world --- sold 8,000 tickets for a performance last October.
"It is happening in every area, not just business, but entertainment," said state Rep. Pedro Marin, who is also executive director of the Mexican Center of Atlanta. "Gwinnett has spearheaded a lot of initiatives targeting the Latinos. You see it at the Arena. A lot of groups are catering to that community in entertainment. This is great to have a showcase. I'm looking forward to seeing if I can make one of the plays."
Rodriguez and associate producer Ann-Carol Spence traveled to Miami last year to research similar theaters and glean any insight they could.
One thing they discovered was that what they are attempting to do here in Gwinnett is rare. "There's hardly any in the United States," Rodriguez said. "On the East Coast, no one is interested except New York City."
Teatro del Sol's first production is a classic: "Life is a Dream / La Vida es Sueno," by Pedro Calderon de la Barca.
In a nutshell, the plot concerns a son who is predestined to take over his father's kingdom, but his reign looks to be a disaster. The father in turn sends him to jail. The themes touched upon include love, loyalty and the precious nature of life.
'It's a beautiful script'
The actors are approaching their performances in individual ways.
"For me, it's two plays," said Luis Hernandez, who was born in Puerto Rico, has performed at the Jewish Theatre of the South and works at the Alliance Theatre. "Once we start rehearsing, it will kind of merge. It's a beautiful script. I'm excited to see how it turns out."
Sponsors including Coca-Cola, Norsan Foods and Lou Sobh Automotive have already pledged support, although additional patrons are being sought.
The majority of the performances will be in English, but on Sundays the same play will receive one reading entirely in Spanish.
"It's a classic play, so it was easy," Rodriguez said. "I wanted a play that was both in English and Spanish. Because the core audience will speak English, the majority will be in English."
The English interpretation should be easier for both the audience and the actors. Parra said while the English version is more contemporary in its speech, the Spanish version is much more classical. Think Shakespeare speak compared with conversational English.
"The Spanish version will be harder to grasp," she said.
Thus far, the community's reception has been eager, if a little wary. But any trepidations, Rodriguez said, are groundless.
"People seem very excited. They think the project is great," he said. "Or they seem really concerned that even though the show is in English, they won't understand it, because it's a Spanish play. It's as accessible as anything else we do."
Rodriguez is crossing his fingers that success will allow the theater to import some national and international talent to perform with Teatro del Sol.
The linguistic logistics currently are the greatest obstacle, but all those involved are taking it in stride. At the first reading last week, the cast members playfully chided each other for rusty pronunciations and questionable intonation.
"It's very ambitious, and I will perhaps produce the [shows this] year with all my hair, but I can't guarantee that," Rodriguez said.