There are few better ways to start the day than to watch kids having fun, unless you’re an actor from California State University, Dominguez Hills who gets to perform for an auditorium full of second-graders. Theatre major Eduardo Frias got to do just that recently. On Nov. 9, he and 18 fellow Teatro Dominguez members wrapped up a five-week tour performing “The Storytellers” for Carson area second-graders.
In the folktale play, Frias portrayed a young boy who learns patience.
“Telling folktales to children uses their experiences and what they are exposed to, so they can relate to the story,” said Frias. “Using talking animals, insects, birds… it’s a way to get children’s attention. ‘The Storytellers’ is so children-centered. We have a spider, a crane, and a Native American doll. Using those characters is a way to prove the themes of the story: Being patient, being kind to people, being good to the land, not being greedy.”
Children relate well to things they understand, Frias explained, and that was the reason for changing a reference to the Mona Lisa in one of the folktales to the animated characters SpongeBob SquarePants and Krabby Patty. With loud laughter, a Carson Elementary School audience demonstrated the edit was a wise one.
Another indication of the times in which we live, was the collective gasp from the young audience as one of the stage characters said, “…in a time when there were no TVs or computers…” But, such technology didn’t seem to be on the minds of the children as they quickly became captivated by the play.
Taking a time-tested theatrical genre to the community has its benefits.
“It was a rewarding experience and a learning experience,” said Frias. “We were able to go to the local schools in Carson and Gardena and expose children to theatre. And not just theatre, but a folktale that’s about ideas like community and patience. To give the kids something positive was special. There’s not really a lot of theatre [available to children] in grade school.”
A community outreach event is what got Frias interested in theatre when he was in grade school.
“Ronald McDonald came by my school in Inglewood in 1987,” recalled Frias, who is now 28. “He said he needed five rappers. I said, ‘ooh, ooh, ooh, me, me, me!’ He picked me and I was in shock. He gave me a big clock, a big hat, and a mic. There was a big audience–big stage. Five of us rapped. I [made some sound effects] and Ronald said, ‘Say it, don’t spray it.’ The crowd cheered me on. At that moment I looked at everyone cheering for me and I thought, this feels good. And that’s when it started for me. That got me into theatre. It seems like a small thing, but a corporation [got] involved with the community and they have an influence. Now, through Teatro Dominguez, I get to influence someone else.”
Community outreach also benefits the actors, as well as the audience, and serves as a rich learning experience, Frias discovered.
“It was a learning experience, because, as actors, we [cast members] were able to fine-tune our craft and our characters,” said Frias. “My character has evolved over the five weeks of the tour. I’ve learned, through this character, not to look for a laugh, but to stay committed to the objective, true to the character and everything falls into place. To see the kids smile was a whole other thing. We do it for the grade and the experience, but ultimately it’s all for the kids. That’s what we all signed up for–the kids.”
Frias sees another benefit of Teatro Dominguez getting out into the community.
“A lot of people don’t know about [CSU Dominguez Hills],” said the aspiring playwright, and film and live-theatre actor. “It’s tucked away. It’s a secret gem.”
CSU Dominguez Hills serves as a cultural center for the community, through programs such as Teatro Dominguez. Under the direction of Bill DeLuca, M.A., M.F.A., professor of theatre arts and Teatro Dominguez director, the group has produced a long-line of community-based projects since 1992, with more than 100 works overall, according to its website.
“I was concerned about going into the schools with 19 college students,” DeLuca said of the cast of “The Storytellers,” the largest in Teatro Dominguez’s history. “I average a cast of seven or eight, so it’s been fun to have this many. It was absolute magic that they all fit together as one touring piece.”
“The Storytellers” was written, directed, and performed by students enrolled in the Theatre 339-Multicultural Children’s Theatre course. Teatro Dominguez student and veteran playwright Melissa Riojas adapted the play from three African, Chinese, and Native American folktales, “Anansi the Spider,” “Carving the Buddha,” and “The Legend of Bluebonnet.”
Of the selection process, Riojas said, “These were the three stories I thought were best suited for the age group, time constraints, and the ability to cast as little or as many actors as we would ultimately have.”
Working in a large ensemble cast is one acting skill Frias is hoping to learn.
“I did some acting when I was younger, auditioning for commercials and TV sitcoms,” said Frias. “But then I wasn’t getting the call backs I wanted. My manager at the time suggested I go back to school to learn and increase the depth of my acting skills. I returned to college and I’m glad. I’m grateful to be here and to be a theatre major. This is a good launching pad for my professional career. My education will help set me up for future success.”
Teatro Dominguez is a multicultural theatre company dedicated to promoting cross-cultural understanding in neighboring communities. In spring 2011, Teatro Dominguez will present “The Brenda Project,” a play inspired by the memory of theatre arts alumna Brenda (Arrieta) Killian (Class of ’01, B.A., theatre arts/history), who died of breast cancer in 2009. The play was developed and written from interviews conducted with local breast cancer survivors, caretakers, and family members.
For more information on Teatro Dominguez, click here.
For more information on the CSU Dominguez Hills Theatre Arts and Dance program, contact the theatre office at (310) 243-3588, or visit csudh.edu/theatre.