Professor Runs Spanish Theater as Practice Lab for Students

Posted: December 18, 2008 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Catherine Ferraro

When Allison Kirsch’s theater group, Teatro sin fronteras, performed for an audience of more than 300 at Mason’s Harris Theater in November, she was pleased to see people of all ages and backgrounds enjoying and learning about the Spanish language.

As a graduate student at the University of Virginia, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in theater and Spanish, Kirsch, a Spanish instructor in the Department of Modern and Classical Languages, was a member of the Spanish Drama Group. When she came to Mason several years ago, she realized that the department had very few activities where students could practice their language skills.

“Because I have an interest in both theater and Spanish, I wanted to find a way to combine these two areas,” says Kirsch. “The theater group is a great way for students to practice all of their language skills – reading, memorizing, comprehending and listening. It helps students understand that theater text is more than just words written on a piece of paper – it’s meant to be performed.”

Although members of the group change every year, they are mostly Mason students who aren’t necessarily Spanish majors. While the actors must possess a higher level of Spanish skills, some members are native speakers while others are not.

Plays performed originate from various regions of the world. The play the group performed this year, a comedy titled “Te juro Juana que tengo ganas,” was written by Mexican playwright Emilio Carballido in 1965.

Cast of Te juro Juana que tengo ganas
Cast of “Te juro Juana que tengo ganas”
Photo courtesy of Allison Kirsch

In past years, the group has performed “La Nona” by Roberto Cossa and “Retablo de la avaricia, la lujuria y la muerte” by Ramon del Valle-Inclan.

Kirsch holds auditions for each play, although having a background in acting is not required for the actors. Many participants want to be involved in the play just to work behind the scenes. In fact, many students from Kirsch’s beginning Spanish class helped with ushering, selling tickets and other activities.

The productions are a collaborative effort with Mason’s Theater Department, which supplies the theater group with all the set pieces needed, costumes, lighting design and makeup. Many theater students volunteer to help out in these areas as well.

Although there are two other professional Spanish theaters in the Washington, D.C., area, notes Kirsch, the Mason theater group offers low ticket prices and a location that is highly accessible to the Spanish-speaking community.

“I noticed that a lot of people who came to see the play were from the local community and not just students,” says Kirsch. “Not only does the theater group give its members a greater sense of speaking Spanish and enhance their public speaking skills, but those who come to see the play have the experience of being totally immersed in another language.”

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