Wooster Theatre Professor and Students Perform on World Stage
Group participates in internationally renowned UNESCO World Festival of Theatre Schools
WOOSTER, Ohio — Jimmy A. Noriega, assistant professor of theatre, and four of his students from The College of Wooster were invited to participate in the prestigious UNESCO/ITI (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization/International Theatre Institute) World Festival of Theatre Schools in September.
As official representatives of the United States, the Wooster group performed an original play at the 10-day festival, which was held in Romania. Noriega also participated as an official U.S. delegate in the World Conference of Theatre School Directors.
The play was performed in Bucharest on Sept. 7 in front of an enthusiastic international audience that included directors, professors, students, cultural ministers, and state representatives from around the world. “This was a tremendous honor for us,” said Noriega. “The opportunity to share our work in front of such a prestigious audience and on such a global stage made us all very happy and proud.”
Participation in the festival is by invitation only. This year 15 universities were selected to present their work, including delegations from Brazil, Bulgaria, Costa Rica, Germany, India, Mexico, Slovenia, and South Africa. The festival aims to bring together the best theatre professors and students from around the world. While in Romania, they presented and watched each other’s productions and attended several master classes offered by professors from Russia, England, New Zealand, and Greece. Noriega was one of only five professors selected to teach a master class to all festival participants. He based his three-hour workshop on a course he teaches at Wooster, titled “The Physical Text.”
“This festival was amazing,” said Noriega. “Not only did we perform in front of such a talented gathering of people, but we also had the chance to teach them how we train as artists at our college. To be chosen as the U.S. representative for this type of international event is incredibly exciting and rewarding. It was an unbelievable and life-changing experience for all of us.”
The invitation to Romania resulted from another international experience that Noriega and his students undertook earlier in the summer. In what might best be described as the ultimate in experiential learning, Wooster students immersed themselves in the study of theatre in Peru in June and July.
Though the trip was not an official college-sponsored activity, the students joined Noriega on his summer research to the Andean nation. Guided by their professor, the students engaged in five weeks of intense study and the challenge of creating and performing an original play in front of South American audiences.
During their stay, the students took workshops with six theatre groups that Noriega conducts research with regularly. Two of the groups — Cuatrotablas and Yuyachkani — are Peru’s most famous and internationally acclaimed theatre collectives, both founded in 1971. “The chance to work with directors and actors from these important and groundbreaking groups is extremely rare,” said Noriega. “These intensive workshops really pushed the students in new directions, and I saw them grow through the experience.”
Working in an athletic stadium, in their professor’s apartment, and in parks and on streets, the group sometimes rehearsed for up to eight hours a day. In the end, they created a new piece, “Encuentro: Peru!!” (Encounter: Peru!!), which was performed in four theatres in Lima, including the Metropolitan Museum of Lima — one of the largest and most important museums in the city. They also performed the play at the Universidad Cientifíca del Sur, a major university; at a community-based theatre for youth in Villa El Salvador; and at a theatre in the arts district of Barranco.
The students, several of whom learned Spanish for the first time in Peru, performed the play in Spanish (with some English). The 60-minute production featured Wooster’s David Grunfeld, Janna Haywood, Colin Martin, and Nora Yawitz, along with Jorge Silva, a colleague of Noriega. In addition, Kevin Glass, who was unable to go to Romania because he is studying abroad in Cuba this semester, also helped to create the piece in Peru. The play, inspired by the group’s trip, is a self-reflective and artistic critique on border crossing, the commodification of culture, exoticism, and cultural and individual identity. It is a critical examination of tourism and its effects on both the country being visited and on the tourists. It uses a mixture of traditional theatre and performance art.
At one of the performances, several influential theatre professionals were impressed enough to recommend that it be considered for UNESCO. Peruvian audiences responded positively to the new piece and have invited Noriega to return next summer.
On both continents, the students learned the many ways that theatre is created across the world and in different cultures, which in many cases is extremely different from the work done in the United States, according to Noriega. “The students also became more confident as actors,” he said. “They definitely grew and developed a stronger sense of what it means to be an artist-scholar. I am proud of all of them.”