by Education Intern Rachael LeValley
A Day’s Work
This fall, three Book-It actors packed-up the Book-It touring van with a set, costumes, and sound equipment, and traveled across the mountains to Central Washington. Their mission: to bring a professional theatre experience to schools that typically have less access due to their geographical location. Their strategy for completing this mission was to perform A Day’s Work by Eve Bunting, adapted and directed by Leticia Lopez. A Day’s Work is about Francisco, a young Mexican-American boy whose abuelo (Spanish for grandfather) has come to help support the family. Abuelo does not yet speak English, so Francisco translates when they meet Ben, who is looking for a gardener for a day’s work. Francisco rashly says they can do the job, but Abuelo is a carpenter, not a gardener, and this leads them to make a serious mistake. As the story unfolds, Francisco learns a powerful lesson about integrity from his abuelo.
Over the course of one week the Book-It actors traveled to Moxee, Thorp, and Yakima, performing for 4,186 students and staff at 8 different schools.
Book-It was able to do this with a generous gift from Paul G. Allen and Jo Lynn Allen in honor of their mother, Faye G. Allen, a long-time teacher and theatre lover. The tour was offered at a reduced price for public elementary schools serving primarily rural districts and with 50% or more free/reduced lunch.
This generous gift gave access to schools that wouldn’t have had this opportunity under normal circumstances.
Linda Martin, the Superintendent/Principal at Thorp School in Thorp, Wash., illustrated the need for quality art experiences in rural areas:
[quote]No other arts organizations come to visit our school. Historically we have not had other arts visits except a few local musicians who may perform. Thank you for this opportunity. Exposure to rich literature, particularly as it is brought to life through drama, is so important for our rural students who often lack these kinds of opportunities.[/quote]
Lori Cleveringa, a teacher/librarian at Roberson Elementary in Yakima, Wash. had a similar response:
[quote]Many of our students have no outside chance of seeing a live performance. This was a professional theatre experience—the kids loved it.[/quote]
For this tour, primarily to schools in the Yakima School District, actors Alex Matthews, Angelica Duncan, and Enrique Olguin performed A Day’s Work bilingually in Spanish and English. Originally written mainly in English, Book-It decided to adapt A Day’s Work into a bilingual piece for several reasons. The company was looking to produce a book that told an authentic story of a Mexican-American experience. Book-It also knew the show would travel east of the mountains to the Yakima School District, whose population is 75.6% Hispanic/Latino and where 30.5% of the students are Transitional Bilingual. Finally, the story transitioned well to becoming a bilingual piece because the character Abuelo knew only Spanish and his grandson Francisco needed to translate for him. Leticia Lopez, a local Latina artist and educator, adapted the English text into a script that was equally Spanish and English.
Leah Meiser, a Kindergarten Teacher at Garfield Elementary School in Yakima, Wash. raved that A Day’s Work was
[quote]The best performance Garfield has had! Loved that it was bilingual and related to most of our children! Our ELL students just LOVED the performance. They talked about it non-stop. Usually my students tune out performances when it isn’t in Spanish. My students were SO ENGAGED! EVERY SINGLE ONE! LOVE, LOVE, LOVED your performance!!! Many of my families work in the fields and/or warehouses and work just like the story. They all wanted to tell stories about their families! More Bilingual plays! Thank you for coming! We would love for you to come back anytime!!![/quote]
An Actor’s Perspective
Angelica Duncan, who plays Francisco, felt that “Not only did we share an art form with students who might not have the chance to engage in live theatre often, if ever, but we offered it to them in a way that I think connected on a personal level.” Alex Matthews, who plays Ben, agreed saying that, “watching their [the students] reaction to our performance, specifically the Spanish language content, was moving and validating.” Enrique Olguin, who plays Abuelo, added that after the performances, many students of all ethnicities came up to him speaking Spanish and asking if he spoke English as well as Spanish. “They were proud of it!” He said about the students knowing Spanish. “As a Chicano Studies teacher, this was the best week of my career.” This was a great partnership between Book-It and these schools. Based on the feedback, it looks like Central Washington will be on the list for next year.
Book-It’s upcoming tour itinerary includes A Day’s Work at seven schools on the Kitsap Peninsula and The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster at 30 schools in Eastern Washington’s NEW Educational Service District 101.
[quote]“The BEST [performance] we’ve had. A wonderful story was brought to life! Also, the bilingual aspect was very much appreciated. Come visit us again…please!” Chris Reid, Teacher Librarian at Garfield Elementary School in Yakima, Wash.[/quote]
Book-It can’t wait to return to the Yakima area!
So What?—What Have We Learned?
Book-It’s Arts and Education mission is to provide an interactive relationship between youth and literature through diverse theatrical productions. It became clear to the company that audiences underrepresented in art and media felt validated by hearing their voices, their culture, and their language onstage. Moving forward and looking into next year’s season selection, the Arts and Education team has an intensified energy to find and produce stories that celebrate the diverse human experience.