In a soap opera, everybody’s got ambición, pasión and, of course, secretos terribles — that is, ambition, passion and terrible secrets.
In Spanish, a soap opera is called a telenovela, or television novel. At Evergreen High School, teacher Matt Hanson has been working since last year with his advanced Spanish-language students to stage a play based on the classic Mexican telenovela “Cuidado con el ángel.” That’s a sprawling serial that broadcast 194 episodes between 2008 and 2009, and remains mega-popular in reruns and on video.
Video is where Hanson introduced his students to “Cuidado con el ángel,” or “Don’t Mess with the Angel.” They followed the spectacular and terrible crimes, loves and mysteries of doctors and judges, runaways and robbers, priests and prostitutes — all spoken in speedy Spanish and delivered in super-dramatic, soap-operatic style.
“It’s a great way to listen to language and learn about culture,” Hanson said. This is an increasingly popular strategy for teaching language called Total Physical Response Storytelling, he said, which emphasizes overall comprehension through immersion in tales.
Last year’s Advanced Placement Spanish class took up the big challenge of starting to slim down “Cuidado con el ángel” from 194 episodes into 80 minutes of stage time, Hanson said. Many of those students volunteered to return this year to keep the project moving forward with the new class.
If You Go
• What: “Cuidado con el ángel,” a live Spanish-language soap opera.
• When: 6:30 p.m. Friday.
• Where: Evergreen High School Theater, 14300 N.E. 18th St., Vancouver.
• Cost: Tickets are $5; $2 for students and children.
• On the web: http://evergreenps.org/High-Schools/Evergreen
The current group of 30 is about half native Spanish speakers and half native English speakers, he said. “That’s the beautiful thing about this, these two groups of kids who have come together,” he said. What’s also beautiful, he added, is that he’s pretty sure this is the first theatrical production ever offered by Evergreen Public Schools entirely in Spanish.
Entirely, that is, except for the English subtitles that will appear on a big screen. They were written by Hanson’s teaching assistants, Gabriela Guerrero and Maricruz Bernal, who have also taken on other crucial behind-the-scenes responsibilities like managing sound, props and actor cues.
Hanson is hoping for a huge audience at the play’s single run, on Friday night. If the families of his students show up, he said, there might be crowd of 150 or so; but if word spreads and other Spanish-speaking folks turn out to enjoy a performance entirely in their primary language, it could be hundreds more.
Hanson said he already mentioned the play to some mothers of his students at a different school, and they became muy emocionado (very excited). “We love this telenovela,” they told him.
Also, Hanson’s own mother is flying in from Minnesota for this world premiere.
Student schedules can get muy complicado, and that’s why a couple of Hanson’s original lead actors had to drop out of the show. Now leading the cast are sophomore Rosemary Meek, 15, and junior Ulises Fino Morales, 16 — each of whom has about 250 lines of dialog to master, in addition to tricky blocking like getting shot and falling down in a very specific way. Morales and Hanson reviewed the finer points of crumpling to the floor during a hurried rehearsal on Wednesday morning.
Morales’ character, Juan Miguel San Roman, is an eminent and rich psychologist. Morales said he loves to act but found the challenge of memorizing 250 lines of dialog pretty daunting. Meek’s character, Marichuy, is a toughened street survivor she described as “sassy but conservative.” Meek also loves acting but said stepping in front of what might be a really big audience has got her a little nervous.
When Meek learned that the script requires an artwork to get smashed over somebody’s head, she went home and painted a little something: white, feathery angel wings against a dramatically fiery background. The painting is so good, Hanson said, he couldn’t bear to see it used as a mere prop, and destroyed. Instead he hung it up in his classroom and photographed it to use as the marketing poster for the play.
“Most of these kids have never been onstage before, but they are so into it,” Hanson said. “I find it wildly impressive.”