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Language, culture take center stage in Spanish and Portuguese theater group

Members of Teatro Décimo Piso carry on the tradition of performance in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese

Members of Teatro Décimo Piso carry on the tradition of performance in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese

Thursday, June 2, 2016

For native speakers and advanced learners of non-dominant languages, it can be difficult to find a community in which they can freely practice and express their linguistic abilities. That’s why graduate students from the Department of Spanish and Portuguese are coming together to try their hand at something new: acting.

Ph.D. candidates Marin Laufenberg and Megan Bailon cofounded Teatro Décimo Piso more than three years ago with the help of fellow students Nicole Fadellin and Carly Kragthorpe. They decided to form the theater group for Spanish and Portuguese graduate students after realizing the popularity of Spanish 564: Theory and Practice of Hispanic Theatre, a course taught by their advisor, Professor Paola Hernández.

Spanish 564 is a cross-listed class open to undergraduate and graduate students alike. Students spend the first half of the course studying theater theories before they costume, cast and design scenery for their own Hispanic theater production.

Due to extensive funding needed for Spanish 564, the course can only be offered every three or four years. That’s what motivated the students to form and lead Teatro Décimo Piso.

“Our theater group is a dynamic and exciting way for us, as graduate students, to learn about Hispanic theater on a level that we aren’t able to study from a script, alone,” Laufenberg said. “After our class with Professor Hernández, we wanted to get more experience with the behind-the-scenes logistics by directing, organizing and producing pieces independently.”

In fall of 2012, Laufenberg, Bailon, Fadellin and Kragthorpe began planning Teatro Décimo Piso’s first production. To select the show, the group read scripts from several genres, ranging from classic Golden Age pieces by Miguel de Cervantes, to contemporary Peninsular and Latin American works before conducting a group vote.

“I have really enjoyed connecting the works we’ve chosen with the costumes and scenery to find that consistency for the big picture. It has always led to a lot great of conversations and collaborations,” Bailon said.

The debut of Teatro Décimo Piso came in spring of 2013 with an outdoor performance of the short play “Pic-Nic” by Fernando Arrabal. With no funding whatsoever, the group improvised a stage between two oak trees at Picnic Point and performed for friends, colleagues and faculty members.

The group has taken on longer and more challenging pieces since their first show. In 2014, co-chairs from the Kaleidoscope Conference of the Graduate Students of the Department of Spanish and Portuguese asked Teatro Décimo Piso to conclude the conference with a performance. By popular demand, the group has returned as the closing act for Kaleidoscope the past two years, providing the group members with consistent funding and a supportive audience.

While she sees herself as a teacher and student first, Laufenberg says she is beginning to like the spotlight.

“The acting is surprisingly enjoyable. Before we started the group, I never would’ve called myself an actor, but it’s an amazing opportunity to let loose and try something different,” Laufenberg said. “Acting is exploring yourself through a different persona, but in a lot of ways, it’s also like teaching a class.”

Teatro Décimo Piso most recently performed in March at the 2016 Kaleidoscope Conference with a 1929 three-act Spanish play called “Tararí” by Valentín Andrés Álvarez. Although both Laufenberg and Bailon intend to graduate within the next year or two, they hope to see the group continue and progress toward more complex pieces.

“We want this legacy to live and thrive,” Bailon said. “As a group, we share in these incredible goals to just keep growing and keep taking on new challenges with the lengths of works we do.”

Story by Nicole Hurley, Language Institute 

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