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La Obra Es La Cosa: Alumna Directing Spanish Youth Production of “Hamlet”

Andrea Rios is wearing a crimson cape and a plastic gold crown. She is Gertrude, once and current queen of Denmark—for now, anyway—and she’s conferring with one of three Hamlets.

Rios, who graduated from Emerson College this spring with a master’s degree in Theatre Education, is this summer co-directing an all-girl, Spanish language, one-hour adaptation of Hamlet for Apollinaire Theatre Company of Chelsea, Massachusetts.

Ay, Pobre Yorick will be performed July 30 and 31, 6:00 pm, in Chelsea’s PORT Park, followed by the final two performances of Apollinaire in the Park’s Hamlet (in English), which has been running since July 13. All shows are free.

On Wednesday, July 27, Rios and her co-director, Armando Rivera, were in PORT Park blocking out scenes for their adaptation with their three actors, ages 10–17, all of whom will take turns playing the Danish prince, in addition to three or four other roles. Rios and Rivera will act in the “play within the play,” as well as narrate in between scenes “to fill in some of the blanks”—a necessity when the script is whittled down to 60 minutes from the four-hour epic that Shakespeare wrote for his 17th-century audience.

“We focused on saying [the lines] with the least amount of words, but trying to sound [beautiful] as well,” Rios said.

Rios and Rivera worked with the students to select the scenes they would keep. They bought a translation of Hamlet from Spain, but it wasn’t working for them, so they created an adaptation themselves, using shorter lines in Latin American Spanish, said Rios, who is from Mexico.

The stage is an amphitheater underneath a geodesic dome; on the grass-covered steps, a cross is hashed out with rope.

“We never leave the stage,” Rios said of the five actors and directors. “We’re always in the four points of the cross. It was a nice solution for a small cast to make it a little…tighter and more intimate.”

The play is part of Apollinaire’s Summer Shakespeare Intensive. Counter to the trend of treating urban youth arts programs as summer jobs and paying kids to act, Apollinaire charges for the five-week course. At $575, it’s not cheap, but with need-based scholarships, any student who wants to participate can do so for as little as $25, Rios said.

“The vision of [Apollinaire’s] director is students should get passion for the work of art before getting payment, and to enjoy it and have fun and be willing to learn and invest,” she said.

Before being brought on to direct the Summer Shakespeare Intensive, Rios, a dancer, did a choreography residency this spring with Callie Chapman at the Boston Center for the Arts. While at Emerson, she made a short film, Aleks, which won Best International Documentary at the Girona Film Festival in Cataluna, Spain. Aleks incorporates dance to explore themes of abuse within families.

Each one of the girls participating has gotten something personal out of the experience, but together, Rios said, they’ve had interesting conversations about the notion of women’s honor and the fallacy of “frailty, thy name is woman.”

One of the girls was able to connect with her mother’s native language, though she came to the program not knowing more than a few words of Spanish, Rios said.

Zaida Weiss, 17, of Chelsea, said her mother found her the program after she told her she wanted to be an actress.

“What I didn’t know was it was in Spanish,” Weiss said.

At first it was difficult saying her lines as Hamlet in a foreign language, but three days before curtain, both she and Rios agree her pronunciation and rhythm have gotten much better.

This was Weiss’s first introduction to Shakespeare’s tragedy.

“It’s sad that everybody dies, but it’s cool,” she said. “I kind of felt bad for Hamlet. I thought he’d have a little bit of happiness.”

Ilaila Guerra, 10, of Boston, wasn’t as bothered by the final body count.

“I think my favorite part of the play is the duel with the swords with Laertes and Hamlet,” Guerra said.

Guerra is completely bilingual, so learning her lines in Spanish wasn’t any trouble, though it took some time to commit them to memory, she said.

In addition to being a learning experience for students, the production will hopefully also reach audiences in Chelsea and East Boston, which have large Hispanic communities, Rios said.

“[We want to reach] people in Chelsea who do not know English or English is not their first language, so they’ll be able to experience the play without having the obstruction of, ‘Oh, I’m not understanding the English version,’” Rios said.

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