From September 15th to October 15th, Hispanic Heritage Month is celebrated across the nation. In honor of this national celebration, the University of Redlands is hosting three events over the span of one month. The events got kick-started on Wednesday, September 18th in the Frederick Lowe Theater with a piece of chamber music theatre titled Tres Vidas, directed by Rosa Rodriguez. Tres Vidas was inspired by three important, significant, and influential Hispanic women—Rufina Amaya, Alfonsina Storni, and Frida Khalo.
Rufina Amaya was a Salvadoran woman who was the only survivor of the El Mozote massacre—a mass shooting that killed over 800 people during the Salvadoran Civil War in 1981. No one believed her story until many years later; she was one of the main reasons why an investigation was launched.
Alfonsina Storni was Argentina’s most famous female poet who has rocked the literary world with her strong, feminist views. She battled cancer for many years before she decided to take her own life in 1938.
Frida Khalo is not only one of Mexico’s most revered painters, but perhaps all of Latin America’s. She too went through her own set of trials, from a trolley accident to not being able to have children.
The decision to focus on three distinct people and places allowed viewers to note that history-makers come from everywhere, not just one specific place. The major contrasts between these women also showed that history-makers come from all walks of life and they all go through their own hardships, but those hardships are what help them become the powerhouse people they are.
Portraying three different women from three different countries with three different lifestyles would normally call for the set to be reorganized three different ways, but Tres Vidas had a different approach. Instead of changing up the set, this piece relied on minor changes in costumes, props, language and music tunes to help the audience differentiate the setting and the person being portrayed.
The use of costumes was one of the key ways in differentiating the three women. While Frida Khalo’s white, floral embroidered shirt and long, blue skirt were simple, they were very distinct from Rufina Amaya’s ragged, dirty outfit. The use of different language also played a part in helping to create the illusion of a different setting for each woman. The sole actress, Jenyvette Vega, alternated between English and Spanish throughout the piece to help distinguish the setting. This was due to the fact that some Spanish words used in Argentina for one thing aren’t the same words used in Mexico or El Salvador for that same thing, despite the countries having the same primary language. Music also played a key role, and while costumes and language helped separate the locations, music added more depth to the characters because it embodied their personalities more. The music played during Frida Khalo’s scene was more vibrant and loud, while the music played during Alfonsina Storni’s scene was slower and melancholic.
The minimalistic approach of this piece when it came to set design was, perhaps, the most interesting quality about it because it allowed the talent of the core ensemble to shine through. Whether of Hispanic descent or not, the performance helped educate the audience by presenting the country’s history and the people that played a hand in shaping it.
So much of a country’s identity can be found through these three women and their take on the social, political and economic problems that faced their country; this is a huge reason why they are remembered and celebrated to this day.
Even if they aren’t of Hispanic descent, the audience gained new cultural and historical insights. Those who are of Hispanic descent likely experienced cultural and historical insights plus an added sense of orgullo (pride) over the influence that these women might have had in shaping a part of the history and heritage of others.
[hr gap=””]Illustration by Ariel Cook.