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Campus Theater Group Created To Promote Spanish Language

Published: December 15, 2011

Thanks to Teatro al Surhe, the sound of Spanish is more than just campus conversation to Romance/German/Russian Languages and Literatures’ Alicia Del Campo.

“Teatro al Sur is a theater group we created to perform in Spanish on campus to promote the language and give Latino actors the opportunity to perform in Spanish,” explained Del Campo, a member of the university since 1998. “It began in the spring of 2009 when it was organized to produce a student play in Spanish. The production had the valuable participation of Professor Ariel Gutierrez who came as a visiting director from Argentina.”

The group’s first production, “Nuestra Señora de las Nubes” written by the Argentinean playwright Arístides Vargas, was a 70-minute play performed completely in Spanish in the Theater Showcase by a cast of CSULB students.

Teatro al Sur followed this production with “Variaciones” in May 2010. The evening featured a pair of one-acts on the theme of two women, two writers and one question: what is a woman? The program included the comedy “Carolina” by Chile’s Isidora Aguirre and “Niches de Amor Efimero” by Spain’s Paloma Pedrero.

Del Campo retains two impressions from both productions: hard work and a sense of community.

“I remember 12-hour days for two weeks of rehearsal,” she recalled. “’Nuestra Senora’ needed a lot of work to make it a professional show. It was a play about memory and exile. Even I performed a small role. It was a nightmare.” Cast and crew drew many family members to the production for whom this was a first-ever experience. “I feel our students made a big commitment of time and effort for the sense of community,” she said. “To be able to act in Spanish was a special pleasure.”

Del Campo remembers enjoying the cast’s variety of accents. “One thing that made this production unique was hearing the Columbian, Peruvian, Ecuadoran, El Salvadoran and Mexican actors involved. The director was Argentinean. The multiplicity of accents reflected the Latino community in Southern California. Creating a ‘common accent’ would not have made any sense. Besides, audiences were not bothered. I recall directing an actress from Mexico whose inflection made sense to other Mexicans but not to me. There were some inflections I interpreted one way as a Chilean but were perceived another way by the Mexican actors. I wondered how could many Latinos react to one play when they come from many backgrounds? It is a fine line to walk but as an academic who researches theater, it was very interesting. It helped me to think about theater in a whole new way.”

The roots to her theatrical involvement began at the Festival Iberoamericano de Teatro de Cadiz in 1997 where she later presented research from Teatro al Sur’s twin productions. “I organized panel discussions and used the opportunity to watch as many Spanish-language plays as I could,” she explained. “Otherwise, I would never have seen these plays. I would have had to travel to Columbia and Venezuela.”

She went on to participate in the publications of three books of research. “It became a good space for creating a new language,” she said. “It was very productive in terms of producing scholarly work.”

Through her participation in the festival, she became more involved in directing theater as well as researching it. “I crossed the barrier between academia and performance which gave me a greater sense of security to found the Teatro al Sur,” she explained.

In 2006, Del Campo received a Faculty Scholarly and Creative Activity Award to study “Micropoetics of Memory: Staging Resistance and Collective Memory in the Public Space.” A book based on her dissertation “Social Theatricalities, National Identities and Historic Memory: Rituals of Purification and Reconciliation” was published by Cuarto Proprio, Santiago, in 2001. She earned two master’s degrees in Hispanic Literature from the University of Minnesota and an M.A. in Social Anthropology from the University of Chile. She earned her doctorate in Latin American literature from UC Irvine.

Del Campo’s prime scholarly research topic remains the impact of theater on national memory. She is especially interested in theater as a tool for political participation. “I specialize in the theatricality of memory especially as it is represented in Chilean theater,” she explained. “I have looked at historical sites in Chile such as houses of torture with the idea of using them to recover collective memory about the 1970s. I want to know how these spaces could help Chile remember. There are ways to theatrically reappropriate these spaces. There are museums of memory now open in Chile. I hope to make that an ongoing area of research.”

She also studies “Mapuche” theater based on cultural resistance to the Chilean government using symbols of indigenous culture. “They use poetry, art and theater to make the majority of Chileans learn what the Mapuche want,” she said. “It is similar to other ethnic movements in South America.”

She even participated in the Chilean student protest movement during her visit this summer. “Students used art and theatrical performance to advance their agenda,” she recalled. “Students used flash meetings to pretend they were on vacation with a do-nothing government. They used artistic creativity to bring political change to Chile. Their performance prevented the demonization of their protest position by the government.”

Del Campo is on the lookout for any support she can find for Teatro al Sur. She currently stores theater artifacts in her home.

“This is a collective group,” she explained. “We work together like a family. One thing I hope to do is to create a play based on the testimonials of our student actors. What was it like for their families to cross the border? When I first heard a student reminisce about crossing the border, I felt I was listening to a Samuel Beckett play. I imagined the actor delivering his monologue from the same car trunk in which he crossed the border. There is some incredible material I want to work with. I want the audience to identify with the speakers and I want the play to validate the speakers’ participation. The way to do that is through Teatro al Sur.”