Lake Norman & Mooresville

Students mix archaeology, culture on Spain project

Davidson Day School students Jordan Graham,15, left, Aslan Freidline, 18, center, and her sister, Israella Freidline, 13, work on their dig site at Zorita Castle. They spent two weeks excavating Area 4 and found structural components such as an intact brick tile floor and ancient wooden beams potentially used for a pulley apparatus to lift water from the well.
Davidson Day School students Jordan Graham,15, left, Aslan Freidline, 18, center, and her sister, Israella Freidline, 13, work on their dig site at Zorita Castle. They spent two weeks excavating Area 4 and found structural components such as an intact brick tile floor and ancient wooden beams potentially used for a pulley apparatus to lift water from the well. LAURA MUELLER

At the end of this school year, Davidson Day School’s Upper School hallways rocked with ELO’s “Mr. Blue Sky,” and theater students spent weeks rehearsing “Nightfall with Edgar Allan Poe,” while the arts faculty prepared materials for summer workshops.

It was all in anticipation of taking the show on the road with Davidson Day’s field study project in Zorita, Spain, from June 7 to 21.

“What we’re doing is more than a cultural exchange,” said Mat Saunders, 38, an archaeologist and member of Davidson Day School’s faculty who led the project. “We are contributing to academic research and conserving a castle which, in turn, contributes to tourism. I don’t ever call it a trip. It’s a project. These kids are getting up at 6 a.m. and working.”

The students worked to conserve the Zorita Castle in the medieval town of 85 residents, doing excavation work alongside and with the guidance of archaeologists. The original walls of the ninth-century castle surround the dig site.

The Spain project combined archaeology, arts and building community among cultures, and the students produced a play and a concert for the Spanish community in two locations.

“Theater and music are a thank you to the community here in Zorita and the surrounding area,” said Saunders. “The students are giving something special that only they can do.”

The project was a project of American Foreign Academic Research, a nonprofit organization focused on advancing archaeological field research, cultural site preservation and education and outreach of professionals and non-professionals alike.

Saunders is director and founder of American Foreign Academic Research, which operates under the umbrella of the school.

On the first weekend, Davidson Day students performed in the courtyard of the Úcles Monastery, home to the Santiago Knights of the 12th century. The following weekend, performances attracted a crowd to home base, Zorita, with the castle above.

Jordan Graham, 15, was on his second Davidson Day/American Foreign Academic Research project to Spain and played the drums for the concerts. “It was just fun digging with my friends and hanging out in the small town of Zorita for two weeks,” he said. “It’s nice to get away from all the commotion in America, where everybody is rushed. In Zorita it’s so peaceful and calm.”

Joanna Gerdy, theater director at Davidson Day, directed the Poe play, a medley of “The Raven,” “The Fall of the House of Usher,” “The Pit and the Pendulum,” and “The Tell-Tale Heart.”

English is not commonly spoken in the area, but the productions helped bridge the gap between the Americans and the local residents.

“Theater is a way to open up to communities,” Gerdy said. “Everyone understands stories. Like music is the great communicator, theater is about what it is to be human. It evokes feelings. People can still connect on those deeper emotional levels.’

Performances received standing ovations from the crowd of blended nationalities.

“My experience at Zorita was indescribable,” said Aslan Freidline, Davidson Day Class of 2015, who performed in both the play and the concert. “It was amazing to be able to perform and do what I love in a completely new place.”

Zorita Castle rises above the narrow streets of Zorita in a remote farming area of Guadalajara Province 11/2 hours south of Spain. The landscape is a patchwork of golden wheat fields, olive trees and the terracotta tiled roof tops of small villages.

Spanish husband-and-wife archaeologist team Dionisio Urbina and Catalina Urquijo, experts in their field as well as arrangers and educators, were the site leaders.

“AFAR provides a base to conserve the castle,” Urquijo said. “Many of the people in this rural area of Spain are old. Most of the young people have left. This month is the only time that the people see children.

“When (the students) sing or play, this is the time that they bring life to the village.”

Laura Mueller is a freelance writer and a member of the faculty at Davidson Day School.

Learn more:

For information, on AFAR, email Mat Saunders at maunders@davidsonday.org or go to www.goafar.org

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