Students in Professor Regina Galasso’s Introduction to Spanish Theater course wanted to do something unique for their final project. After all, they spent half the year studying Spanish plays, analyzing literary works from the 12th century to the 19th century.
So, at the end of last semester, nine of Galasso’s students decided to represent one of the works they read in class by writing a modern-day interpretation of Las aceitunas (The Olives) by Lope de Rueda.
The students performed their version in the classroom, in front of an audience made up of their classmates, professor, and staffers from the Department of Modern Languages.
In the original Las aceitunas, a farmer (Father), his wife and their daughter are arguing about the price of olives—how much should they sell for? The daughter feels torn between both parents. A neighbor hears the family fighting and settles the dispute, by deciding this was nothing to fight over, especially since the (planted) olives haven’t even grown yet. Thus, they are all fighting over something that doesn’t exist.
In the students’ version of the play, Los pinos navideños (The Christmas Trees), instead of olives, the family argues about Christmas trees. Similar to the original, the parents put their daughter in the middle of this debate since she is the one who will have to sell them. A neighbor steps in and settles the dispute.
“We have really been studying pre-19th-century plays from Spain, and Las aceitunas represents the classical work of Spanish Golden Age theater,” said Galasso, who teaches the course entirely in Spanish.
The modern-day interpretation—which takes place in Jersey City as opposed to a countryside—was written by students Florangel Monegro and Maria Gonzalez.
“I’ve read this play before, in high school, and I loved it—always have,” said Monegro. “It was fun to modernize it and make it relevant to today and something I’ve never done before. And with Christmas coming up, we decided to give it a holiday theme.”
Student Leomar de los Angeles directed the in-class production, using a computer to create various sound effects, such as a door opening and slamming. “The original version of this play allowed today’s generation to see how people lived, and spoke, back then,” he explained. “Modernizing the original play allowed us, as students, to greater explore and appreciate our Hispanic roots."
According to Galasso, throughout the semester, her students read and analyzed works by major Spanish playwrights such as Pedron Calderón de la Barca and Leandro Fernández de Moratín.
“The biggest challenge they had was the language. Most students in this class read and write Spanish well, but most of the classroom text is in old Spanish, which takes some getting used to,” said Galasso. “I compare it to an English speaker who is reading Shakespeare for the first time. In this course, the students were exposed to the history and transformation of the Spanish language. In a way, for some of them, this was their first exposure to the Spanish language from centuries ago.”
Student Genesis Rivera played La Madre (“The Mother”) in Los pinos navideños. “Translating older works can be difficult,” she said. “Acting in this play, and studying my character, helped me understand the other plays we read in this course. I’ve discovered that I enjoy interpreting Spanish plays and find it easier to understand Spanish literature now."
The Golden Age
Aside from the gift of literature, earlier in the semester, Galasso’s students took a trip. “We went to a Spanish-language Theater here in the city and saw La vida es sueño (Life is a Dream),” she said. “This gave students the chance to see how the play translated from the page to the stage.”
Galasso points out that in Golden Age theater, plays were not meant to be read, they were meant to be seen. “So, we had to take that into account when reading works from the 12th century, plays were performed for religious purposes, and for commercial purposes in the 17th century,” she explains. “Also, most plays we read in class were written in verse; they rhymed. Today, what we see in theaters doesn’t necessarily rhyme, which is a drastic contrast."
Student Leomar de los Angeles said Los pinos navideños's biggest fan was Professor Galasso. “She was really supportive of us all along, so I told the others in my group ‘Let’s give her something she’ll enjoy’. She said we could ask her anything if we ever needed help with the interpretation or anything.”
The student actors brought in all the props used for their play, and practiced whenever they could—wherever they could—on the BMCC campus.
“Also, when we heard The Office of Public Affairs was coming to video our play, I said to the cast, ‘We’ve GOT to do our best,” said de los Angeles.
Galasso was impressed by her students’ motivation. “It was fun to see them put on a show based on something we read in class. But, most importantly, I was thrilled to see the group’s camaraderie and enthusiasm.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: Other students involved with this production, but not mentioned in the article, are Edson Espinoza, Yuly Alcantara, Melisa Rodriguez and Janisse Vitanzo.