A Flare for the Dramatic

It’s been about a year since I moved to Peru. Here, as the year comes to a close and we get closer and closer to Christmas, the days have begun to heat up. Paletas have made a comeback (ice cream popsicles that come in thin tubes of plastic- a childhood joy of frozen go-gurts brought back to life). I’ve spent this last year teaching English, something I never thought I’d do. Before coming here I remember having declared on numerous occasions that I was not made to be a teacher (the jury’s still out on that verdict).

It’s been a year of many mistakes, of facing days filled with unknowns. There has been so much laughter. There have been many days marked by doubt and uncertainty. In all of this, I’ve come to one conclusion: you can take the theatre kid away from the drama, but you can’t take the drama away from the theatre kid.

In this past year I have found myself yearning for the theatre world that I lived in so fully in university. I find myself waffling back and forth: teach English abroad? return to theatre? work for a non-profit? return to theatre? I’ve had some opportunities at school to start theatre classes on the weekends, and we even took a show to a festival, but compared to what I was participating in before, my life as an artist has felt a bit sparse.

Sometimes I listen to a podcast about theater, hear a song from a musical, read one of the few plays in our library and am catapulted into panic. If I wanted to follow theatre, what the heck am I doing in another country, speaking another language and working another job that has seemingly nothing to do with the arts?

Jesuit volunteers of Tacna have a long-standing tradition of transforming their home into a haunted house every Halloween. The tradition is so popular that when I arrived in November of 2017 I had students already asking me enthusiastically if we would have our haunted house the following year. Our nine-year old neighbors even came by one weekend that December to offer to design the house just for us.

An interesting side-note about Halloween in Peru: people with a stronger sense of traditional faith still believe that celebrating Halloween is a sin. Not everyone, mind you, but it was an interesting puzzle to navigate in the classroom when some students were confused by my apparent communion/confirmation mixed with my willingness to worship the devil.

I sit on the floor, working on part of the haunted house decorations, making fake bodies wrapped in garbage bags and duct-tape, using different bottles to create the shape.
I was in my element, making fake bodies and transforming the house.

October of this year came, and it was only in the midst of the preparations for our house that I realized exactly how all-consuming this transformation was. Imagine black trash bags and black cloth blocking most of the natural and even the artificial lights in your kitchen and living room. We transformed our house into a hospital of terror. The library and other front rooms were swallowed by sheets and fake bars and operating tables and cellophane over the lights that left you feeling like someone was watching you over your shoulder in the evenings. Unfortunately, because we also work full time this was not a day-of process; we had to live in this space for quite a few days leading up to Halloween. Imagine cooking your scrambled eggs with hot, black trash bags looming overhead, trying to do yoga in the morning in a room illuminated by a sickly red light.

Two friends pose, one girl acting as a hospital patient, the other as the demonic surgeon holds a fake knife above her and looks at the camera.
We transformed our guest room into a terrifying “sala de operaciones

Of course, the theatre kid in me was pumped. I got to make dead bodies, watch my community mate cook up fake blood, and when the dreaded night came screamed until my voice was gone, and then screamed some more. There really is an added joy in a haunted house when the people experiencing it are all of your students- especially your less well-behaved ones who leave their bravado behind as they run screaming, out the door.

Two Jesuit volunteers dressed in white shirts meant to look like straight jackets stare at the camera.
My community mates getting into character.

A lot of effort to create one night of terror for pre-teens. But very much worth it. And as usual, a big reminder that what I love about any form of theatre, no matter how well-trained or technical, is the ability to create communicate and immerse its audience in the present.

Two actors stand behind fake metal bars and stare at the camera. A second actor sits in a wheelchair in front, holding her head.
Some of our actors the night of. 

So in the midst of this twenty-something’s panic about career choices, as I yearn to return to the world of theatre, I am also reminded of what theatre is at its core: human interaction. I believe all of my experiences here, big and small, arts-related or otherwise are helping me to fill that artistic tool box. Experiences help us gather material for more interesting stories. So for now, that’s where I’m at in my artistic process. And don’t worry neighbors, I’m already planning next year’s fright fest in the volunteer house.

The actors, a mix of friends, alumnis from Colegio Miguel Pro, and volunteers, pose together in the back patio after finishing the haunted house.
The cast: a mix of alums, friends, and gringas

Originally published at www.jvcwithcamila.blogspot.com

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