Theater Can Make You Rethink Things

By Lua Harmsen

While I waited outside the small theater, one by one, students arrived until there was a hundred of us lining the hallway of the Chardón Building. If you have never been to one of TeatRUM’s shows you’d never believe that this was a slow night. But while the biology and engineering students bring pride to the University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez with their investigations, TeatRUM, the student theater group, puts on shows that are just as innovative and professional.

Their most recent show is called “Mambo Mouth”, a series of bilingual monologues written by John Leguizamo. The show explores Latino stereotypes: a woman who abandons her Latin background to be more Asian and respectable, a young boy who’s had sex for the first time, a man in prison for beating his wife, a Mexican immigrant detained by the state. During many scenes I literally laughed or cried. At one point, I think I did both similtaneously.

“When we give the audience (a message) in theatre, they can just get it. They don’t realize that they’re getting it, they’re just laughing,” said Alejandra Maldonado, the group’s current president, who thinks that theater can be a powerful teaching tool in a university community that she feels at times seem oblivious to important issues. “What we do is a service. More than just entertainment or an escape, it’s another way to teach people to listen and to see.”

Alejandra Maldonado and members of TeatRUM discuss up-coming productions in the small theater of the Chardon Building.

Alejandra Maldonado and members of TeatRUM discuss up-coming productions in the small theater of the Chardon Building.

Throughout the night they explored characters that were controversial but familiar and face scenes and situations that could be transplanted into the lives of our friends and ourselves regardless of how outrageous they were. It was like looking into a mirror and seeing our culture.

As well as being hilarious, many of the plays have a relevant social message. “We don’t all sit down and pick a social theme to look for,” Alejandra told me. “It’s just a fact that theater, like all the arts, corresponds largely to what goes on in that country at the time. There is no way to separate the social aspect from theater because it’s a type of response.”

The cast of “La Show de Comedia” , a satire on the difficulties of being a freshman at the UPRM, produced by TeatRUM in October 2010.

The cast of “La Show de Comedia” , a satire on the difficulties of being a freshman at the UPRM, produced by TeatRUM in October 2010.

Over the last four years the group has produced around 28 plays like “La Show de Comedia,” “The Tale of Beatle the Bard,” “Aquí No Paga Nadie,” and “Retorno al Puerto de Partida”. All of which are completely free.

Nevertheless, the group has had to struggle at this university. Surprisingly, UPRM does not even offer a minor in the field, even though the course catalogue includes 24-credits worth of classes.

Now they face more difficulties, the Humanities department has put in place new restrictions for the group. TeatRUM, once in charge of the small theater in the Chardón building, to use for rehearsals, meetings, productions, etc., was suddenly limited access to the facilities this past summer. The time coincides with the end of the UPR student strike and the naming of new administration in the Humanities Department.

Professor Félix Zapata, the new interin Head of Department, assures that the group is valued by the department but it was necessary to make some changes in the area. Among his list of reasons for the semi-expulsion of the students from the small theater were termites, wiring hazards, professors’ accommodations, security, safety, and most emphatically, lack of supervision.

Now TeatRUM can still use the theatre but on a restricted basis. Zapata expressed that he is not trying to limit the group in a way that will affect the quality of their productions. “But I do believe, that we should eliminate, well, this time that is dedicated to sleeping in the theater, because that’s not a place to spend the night,” he added.

Alejandra and others are almost certain that this change in treatment is due to the Student Strike that occurred last semester. Many members of the group took part in the strike, which was widely controversial. So far eight students from UPRM, one of which was from TeatRUM, Eury Gonzalez, are facing the possibility of serious sanctions by the university. Zapata denies that the strike has anything to do with the restrictions.

Regardless of the reason, the arts in UPRM have suffered great blows this semester. The Student Art Gallery located in the Student Center was turned into a game room and the Chardón Art Gallery was barely open for students and the public to visit.

This lack of appreciation for the arts has led Alejandra to plea that we re-evaluate our definition of the word “university” in order to create a truly universal institution “If we really did that (at UPRM) and we produced professionals who are as sensitive as they are practical and as analytical as they are creative, it would make a big difference.”

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