Everyone knows William Shakespeare for his iambic pentameter and forbidden love stories. However, many play-watchers and theater enthusiasts are only familiar with these works in the English language.
Alvaro Cortez, a senior BFA major at Westminster College, wants to change that.
Last year, a former high school teacher of Cortez approached him about starting a new Shakespeare team — only this one would perform almost entirely in Spanish.
“The first year it was all done in Spanish, there was no English added,” Cortez said. “This year, there was some English added but for theatrical effect.”
Starting the team at Hillcrest High School has been somewhat of a slow process, despite the large Hispanic demographic there, Cortez said.
The team started with three members last year, and grew to four members this year. Although it’s small, Cortez said he hopes to see if grow even more over the next few years.
“As long as we perform — we don’t have to be great — but as long as we perform we are doing what we came here to do,” Cortez said.
Ligia Cortez, a senior at Hillcrest High School and one of the members of the team, said she joined because she wanted to experience something outside of her comfort zone. Because her brother is the director, she said that encouraged her even more to join.
“I think it’s important to have the Spanish team,” Ligia said. “It is my first language and [it’s important] to have my culture represented.”
The Forum spoke to Alvaro and uncovered his motivations, why he thinks this team is important and what he hopes to see in the future of Shakespeare. Some answers have been lightly edited for conciseness and clarity.
Q: What exactly is this team and how did it get started?
A: There’s a high school competition for the Shakespeare festival that happened in the first weekend of October and basically it’s all the high schools in the state that can afford it and other schools around the country basically come and perform Shakespeare. […] It’s a good time to celebrate Shakespeare with your fellow peers.
Q: How is the team different from other high school Shakespeare teams?
A: The Spanish-speaking team is different because last year it was the first time it’s ever been done for the whole competition. […] It was different because it was all Latinx kids. The first year it was all done in Spanish, there was no English added. This year, there was some English added but for theatrical effect. It’s a minority group performing with the big leagues.
Q: What do your practices and competitions look like?
A: Our rehearsals… Well, first off I make them very flexible for the kids to try and encourage more children to come. So, there’s not like a hardcore ‘We will meet here and here or you’re out.’ I just meet and work around their time, and sadly mine because I’m still in college and have things to do. Then we meet, we warm up vocally, physically and vocally we work on diction and projection especially because that seems to be the hardest thing for a lot of first-timer theater kids to learn. And physically we just get the blood pumping because I think that just makes you a better actor to just be physically awake. That’s just something I was taught. Our first rehearsals start out with learning who Shakespeare was, I give out the pieces I wanted them to do and had them look it over.
[…] I introduce them to Shakespeare, tell them how I act Shakespeare in English. And by that, I mean there’s like the pentameter. In English, there are certain rules […] and guidelines to follow if you want to act Shakespeare. But I told them, ‘If you learned that, forget it.’ Because this is a different language, it’s not in pentameter all the time in the translations, it hardly ever is. And if it is, it’s just a weird coincidence.
[…] I always tell them, here’s why we’re doing this team. It’s not just because we thought it would be cool, but it’s just diversity in the arts is very important. It’s very lacking in Utah. It’s getting better but it’s still lacking and that’s why we’re doing it. As long as we perform — we don’t have to be great — but as long as we perform we are doing what we came here to do.
Q: Will you talk more about the reason why you created this team?
A: Last year [in] 2018, my old high school theatre teacher who I’m very close with […] contacted me at the beginning of the school year saying, ‘Hey, I really want to get a Spanish-speaking Shakespeare team going. Would you be interested?’ And, at first I was like, ‘Spanish-speaking? What do you mean?’ He told me we have a lot of Latin kids and he wanted to have Shakespeare done in Spanish.
[…] We do have a big Latin community [at Hillcrest] but sadly, there’s not a big chunk of that community in the arts. There’s several reasons for that. I’m sure there’s even more reasons when you get to know them personally. That’s just the challenge: try to get as many kids as we can to come audition.
Q: What does your team look like, especially when comparing last year to this year?
A: Last year we had three kids. I was able to get two girls to do it. To be a team, you need at least three people so I was asking around different schools. […] We’re not officially part of the high school team, we’re just a club that practices there. […] I couldn’t find anyone, so I just brought in my little sister who was in school.
This year, it was just [a mindset of], ‘Make it bigger.’ Three kids is awesome, but I need to make it bigger. Especially because we have such a huge population to pick from, like I want to get a good spoonful. So, this year we have four kids. […] That was the difference between this year and last year. We were able to do more and we were bigger.
Q: Why do you think it’s so important to have a Spanish-speaking Shakespeare team?
A: To show that there is diversity in Utah, it’s not just all white people. These minority groups have a voice that should be heard. And it can be heard just as well as any white performer can. The arts does help with education, it makes better people. Especially theater, in my experience. And I feel like that would help any racial group. That is why it’s important and it gives these kids a chance to try something new. A lot of kids can’t afford to do art. A lot of Latin kids can’t afford to do it for financial reasons or other reasons. That’s why it’s important, to make it more inclusive.
Q: What do you hope for the future of high school Shakespeare teams?
A: Expansion. I would love to see more children doing this. For it to grow. I would love to see other schools make their own Spanish-speaking Shakespeare team, especially if they have the students and a lot of schools do. Again, it’s just funding. But I feel like if we try hard enough there are ways to make it work. I would like it to be more recognized in the competition. I would like judges to be prepared for getting minority groups whether that be in Spanish or ASL.
Q: What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned coaching this team?
A: One of them is that teachers are a blessed breed. I mean I’m not [at Westminster] for an educational program so it a lot of it was just asking my professors and former teacher, ‘How do I reach these kids?’ Really, teaching children is a privilege and it’s a very difficult thing. That’s one thing I took out of it. It’s a privilege. Whoever has the opportunity to teach children: do not take it lightly, because you can make a difference.