Community Engagement in El Salvador

Thursday, Oct 26, 2017
Juilliard Journal
Community Engagement in El Salvador

Continuing our look at this past summer’s Community Engagement grant projects, this month we turn to El Salvador, where five Juilliard actors and one alumna spent nearly three weeks in June with the goal of integrating communities. They were based at the Escuela Americana in San Salvador, where they worked with students ages 12 to 23.

Sebastian Roy

Irene Diamond Scholarship

I am the founder of ArtES and in El Salvador, I acted as artistic and executive director. My duties included making sure the schedule was functioning, attending meetings with faculty at Escuela Americana, creating events with local artists, organizing our final performance, and above all making sure my teachers and students had their needs met at all times. My favorite thing to do was to take a moment in the lobby of the Arts Center at the school while classes were in session and enjoy the ensemble at work. It meant a lot to have so many people from different backgrounds congregated in one building creating art, a unique event in El Salvador. Being at Juilliard one can easily forget how lucky we are to work so extensively on what we love. I savored every second of seeing my peers at work and the students experiencing the arts in such a concentrated way for the first time.

Sekai Abeni Edwards

Irene Diamond Scholarship
McKnight Foundation Scholarship

My main focus in the acting class in the ArtES program was expanding the kids’ imaginations. That imagination work was very reflective of the first-year drama work we do at Juilliard, and it propelled the students into the acting work. I asked the students to imagine themselves in places, situations, and acting out unfamiliar behaviors. They came from a large range of socioeconomic backgrounds, and this exercise allowed them to explore issues of privilege, status, race, religion, and sexuality in ways many of them had never had the freedom to do before. The work in El Salvador forced us to consider the connection of artist and activist and artist as citizen. The students were able to be their whole selves and tell the stories they knew. That is the most political and powerful thing we can do—that is true freedom, and what I as an artist strive for.

Eliza Huberth

Group 44 alumna

I taught Playwriting. At the beginning of every class, we started with a prompt and they would free-write for the first five minutes and then share what they wrote. Then they wrote character profiles, monologues for the character in their profile, and/or scenes. It’s important to be able to express oneself in front of peers, so every student shared their work before the end of class. Another major goal was to make sure all the students trusted that they were playwrights—that it was just a matter of finding their voice and what they wanted to express. By the end of the intensive, they performed their original monologues and scenes for the public. It was wonderful to see that everyone wanted to showcase their own voices and even more inspiring seeing them support their peers as well.

Jules Latimer

James D. Rosenthal and Marvin Y. Schofer Scholarship
25th Anniversary Drama Scholarship
Irene Diamond Scholarship

I taught Intro to Songwriting. By using teaching tools such as writing prompts and song-structure analysis, groups created short plays around the songs produced in class. Some used songwriting as a therapeutic tool to channel frustration of daily life into stories they could sing for their friends. The biggest challenge was attempting to serve every student’s needs. Trying to balance the classroom and help each student thrive was daunting but certainly had its rewards. One student, Javier Ortiz, was a phenomenal piano player. After he expressed his love for jazz and classical music, I was thrilled and at the same time dumbfounded that I could serve him and also assist students who had no musical background. Javier’s the real deal—I hope he’ll go to Juilliard someday.

Anthony Bowden

Edward F. Limato Scholarship
McKnight Foundation Scholarship

My class used various theater games and clowning exercises to let the kids have fun and figure out ways to bring a sense of play into all their classes and their performance. Once the kids got over feeling silly or embarrassed they embraced the class, and watching them grow and have fun was really special. We did a lot of singing along to Moana, and the kids did their best to teach me to dance to “Despacito” (the Justin Bieber version, duh). Being a part of the program was awesome!

Brandon Mendez Homer

Barbara G. Fleischman Drama Scholarship
Irene Diamond Scholarship

Economic and social integration was the goal of ArtES. I was fortunate enough to teach movement, and the word integration denotes a movement, a coming together. Which meant I got to teach the kids how to move, think, listen and respond as one, and as a result, I had the privilege of watching them defy the norms and expectations of their country by coming together in motion to create art. Actors have a name for this integration process when it works. We call it ensemble. I gave them the gift of the ensemble.

How did I do that? Chivo. Chivo [Salvadorean slang for cool] was a command word in my class; the group had to clap in unison when they heard it. The sound would have to be crisp and on the same frequency: 10 claps from 10 individuals would have to sound like one single clap for us to proceed. If not, we would repeat. I find the challenge of integration is seeing and understanding the other person before making that social contract to come together. Chivo demanded that these students see each other, hear each other, and trust each other. Once we could do that, and clap as one, we could do anything as one. I’m proud that by the end, our group of 50 could clap as one.

The one thing you can’t teach is desire. Chivo is a dead command without the will to play, to see, to hear. And desire was something these young Salvadoran artists have tons of. The kids taught me that.