The Spanish Action League Theater Youth Group

Photo by Marilú López Fretts

The goal of this Syracuse, NY theater project is to keep youth developing their abilities and interests through the arts, and especially in their native language. Each year, the theater youth group chooses works in Spanish literature that can stimulate learning and engagement for children and encourage them to continue their studies through university or college.

photo © Marilu Lopez Fretts
This year, one of the chosen works for the central New York audiences was from a collection of short stories called The Golden Age (La Edad de Oro) by José Martí, the famous Cuban hero and poet from the late nineteenth century. The story, “The Two Nightingales” (“Los Dos Ruiseñores”), has been incorporated into a mission to help the children learn about urban birds, as well as how to help and protect them. The project was co-produced by The Spanish Action League Theater Youth Group (La Joven Guardia del Teatro Latino), Punto de Contacto/Point of Contact, Inc., and the Syracuse Community Folk Art Center. The theater group is a program within the Spanish Action League of Onondaga County, Inc. (La LIGA), and Punto de Contacto is an arts organization that works with Syracuse University to promote diversity and the exchange of ideas though the arts.

photo © Marta del Campo
Over the summer, the theater group participated in workshops where youth, parents, and volunteers learned not only about literature and theater, but also how to care for the environment. In some fun and educational activities offered as part of El Punto Art Studio workshops at La Casita Cultural Center, for example, they learned about acting, set design, makeup, photography, and of course about birds, too! This workshop was set up by Punto de Contacto/Point of Contact, Inc., and the final scenery for the play was made by youth participants here.
These are some photos by Marilú López Fretts at El Punto Art Studio during the selection of play parts and workshop activities:

photo © Marilú López Fretts
The play follows a Chinese legend about an emperor living in a fine porcelain palace who becomes involved with a nightingale from the nearby forest as well as a toy nightingale in his regal abode, and the story emphasizes “the importance of love, valuing and respecting nature, and thinking and living in freedom,” as the program summarized it. After the show, some of the youth actors talked about the CUBs kits available after the performance, encouraging community members to participate in data collection or bird-friendly planting. Sound effects of wildlife, such as–you guessed it–nightingales, but also a cow and some frogs, were provided by the Macaulay Library here at the Lab.

Creative Director José Miguel Hernandez, who adapted the play from Martí’s story and wrote the music for the show, shared his feelings about actors and the arts with us before the performance:

“Art is the force that moves the Latino Theater Youth Troupe and the world. It will be integrated in our costumes, make-up, lights, photography, songs, choreography, scenery — in short, it is found in everything we use to interpret characters and roles as a fundamental part of creative and exploratory theater. This is what defines our work with the actors. Our future is in these children and their art, as well as in the hands of the society that will support them in achieving their dreams.”

What a magical combination: developing a wonderful play, inspiring one’s community to learn about urban birds, and studying how to help and protect the birds in one’s neighborhood!