Lessons in selflessness and sharing transcend cultural boundaries, and this month, they rise above language barriers, too.
Throughout April, UNC Charlotte’s theater department students are presenting “Mamá Goose” in schools, libraries and various public performances. A bilingual play including music and dance, “Mamá Goose” was adapted from a Latino nursery rhyme anthology. The final public performances will be 11 a.m. in ImaginOn and 2 p.m. in UNCC’s black box theater in Robinson Hall on April 27, and 2 p.m. in the black box theater on April 28.
UNCC theater education professor Beth Murray and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Library Bilingual Program Specialist Irania Macias Patterson adapted “Mamá Goose” for the stage. The two worked together in the library until three years ago, when Murray began working at UNCC. She immediately saw an opportunity to connect the needs of a multicultural community – Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s citizens speak 165 native languages – with theater.
“I knew when my turn came to direct,” Murray said, “I wanted to choose something bilingual because that’s a need and an opportunity for our community, theater department and campus.”
Murray and Patterson sought a script for a young audience – ages 3-7 – but weren’t satisfied with anything they found. They were drawn to Alma Flor Ada and F. Isabel Campoy’s “Mamá Goose” because of the book’s focus on biliteracy.
Patterson has worked to provide programming for multi- and intercultural communities in libraries for 15 years. In her experience, designating something as multicultural can segregate cultures.
“If it’s multicultural,” Patterson said, “people always feel that there is a division. People feel like it’s for another group. But talking about multiculturalism is talking about inclusion.”
Audiences do not need to understand all languages represented in “Mamá Goose.” The characters include an English speaker, a Spanish speaker, an English and Spanish speaker, and a character doing sign language.
The characters in the play each discover a large egg and recite a poem, cued by a musical motive. When the English-speaking character finds the egg, they recite the poem in English; when the Spanish-speaking character finds the egg, they recite in Spanish. The musical cue and form repetition help audience members understand what is being said, even if they don’t speak the language.
“The beauty is that we didn’t write it for one audience, we wrote it for all audiences,” Patterson said. “The messages don’t stop in words; the characters communicate in many ways. They’re interacting through the language of the performing arts, drama and art speak beyond the syntax of a language.”
The 11 a.m. performance on April 27 is part of the Library’s El Día de Los Niños/ El día de Los Libros celebration. Other activities include storytelling from around the world, featuring India, Russia and Latin America; crafts from around the world; a chance to meet Colombian author Leyla Torres; and a performance by El Alma de la Luna, a Charlotte dance company.
“We don’t need programs for one community, we need intercultural programs,” Patterson said. “It’s more powerful to have the world in one place. That’s realistic. We want our children to develop global minds, we want them to know that there is something beyond their homes. There’s a world out there to learn from.”
This article is part of the Charlotte Arts Journalism Alliance, a consortium of local media dedicated to writing about the arts.
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