This past weekend, I took my 6 year old daughter to see the new children’s bilingual play Cenicienta at the Zach Theatre, made in collaboration with Vivo Teatro. Each time I glanced at her throughout the performance I could tell that my daughter thoroughly was enjoying the play. The story line had clearly captivated her. However, what came afterwards is what really got my attention; it demonstrated the multiple benefits of exposing her to this lovely bilingual play and why we need more plays like this.
Why bilingual theater productions are so important:
Bilingual Role Models
We quickly recognized the actress in Cenicienta, Gricelda Silva, from other children’s plays we had enjoyed in the past. Gricelda Silva has played many fun loving children’s characters such as Toad from Frog and Toad and my daughter was so excited to see her in this play too. However, it was my daughter’s comments about the actress immediately after the play that stayed with me. “Mommy, she speaks Spanish too!” She was so excited that this same actress who has delighted her in so many productions also shared the same languages! This personal connection an actor or actress has with a child in both their imagination and language demonstrates just how important it is to have bilingual role models in theater and in other performing arts for our youth.
The use of Imagination in another Language
Language is more than just a means of communication; it is a tool for imagination and creativity. Experiencing it through theater allows one to own this world of imagination in the two languages expressed. The results of this can even be seen beyond the experience of watching the play itself. After we came home from the theater, I could hear my 6 year old daughter in her room engaging in imaginative play in Spanish using topics and themes from the play. That evening, she showed me her cute little “canasta” made from an acorn top from a Bur Oak and wiki stixs. Hence, her ability to connect with the Spanish language through imagination stayed with her throughout the day despite competing interests in the dominant language, English.
Cultural Experience and Sensitivity
Presenting bilingual topics in theater also connects you to cultural perspectives that one may not have been sensitive to or aware of prior. Being particular about her own name, my daughter loved the fact that the character also very much disliked it when her step family called her by the English pronunciation of her name rather than the Spanish pronunciation. The ability for the audience to connect with both tangible objects in a culture such as clothes as well as intangible ones like a name and the emotions that are tied with each truly make theater a wonderful medium to create cultural experiences that everyone can then identify with.
Knowledge/Tolerance/and Reading Emotions of Others
I realized that I shouldn’t be completely surprised by the positive experiences that I witnessed with my daughter after watching Cenicienta. After all, a recent study on exposing children to theater showed those children who watch theater experience positive improvements over reading and watching a film alone in knowledge, tolerance and the ability to read the emotions of others. Thus, it stands to reason that by combining the bilingual and multicultural elements to theater, bilingual theater can be a truly powerful and productive means to develop a child’s awareness and use of language and culture while also developing empathy and tolerance for others and knowledge of the world around them.
To promote and/or attend more bilingual programs in the performing arts, see our events calendar for more theater dates for Cenicienta and other up-coming bilingual and multicultural programs in the Austin area. Contact local theaters and tell them that you would like to see more events like this.