She wasn’t familiar with this language or these people and was still trying to navigate a new world that looked different, smelled different, and felt different, while wearing clothes that were unfamiliar and all-of-a-sudden, seemingly uncomfortable. Soon, though, she found comfort in the smiles and warm embrace of her new-found friends.
61 students – all in
This isn’t the story of a college student on an international trip during Interim, or a journalist on assignment in the Middle East, but the story of Eva, a Mount Vernon Kindergarten student who just took part in a sold-out run of nine shows of Aladdin, Dual-Language Edition, this year’s all-school musical. Based on the Oscar-winning 1992 Disney animated movie by the same name, this adaptation performed by 61 students in Kindergarten through grade 12 incorporated lines and lyrics in both English and Spanish. The beauty of learning at Mount Vernon, is that a student can find just as many things to explore in a school musical, as they can anywhere else. Learning lines, lyrics, dance steps, and in this show, puppeteering and acrobatics, are standard challenges for actors. These cast members, however, added yet another layer of complexity – by doing half of the show in Spanish. Playing the role of Razu, junior Jack Armstrong explains, “Learning how to sing in a language other than my own was the greatest, and probably most rewarding, challenge. Everything was so new: learning cadence, inflection, and pronunciation, all while dancing and telling a story that most people already know.” One show was performed exclusively for families of Los Ninos Primeros, a local, year-round educational program for Latino children.
An illusion of Aladdin’s Genie, as portrayed by Jordan Ricketts, sets the stage for Act I.
Grace McCarthy as Jafar, and Shannon McCarthy (unrelated) as her evil sidekick Iago, bring laughs to the audience in both English and Spanish.
There’s More to the story than you might think
A few weeks before the production, I wandered into the end of a rehearsal where the entire cast was seated on the ground reflecting on the production/rehearsal process when I heard Director Clark Taylor ask a poignant and innocent question, “What do you think about this version, do you think this show is doing what theater does well?” Playing the role of Aladdin, senior Townsend Lambert shared a transparent response, “As someone who was a big fan of the broadway version, I was unsure, but the more I get into it, the more I liked it.”
Senior Grace McCarthy, who played the role of the villain Jafar, spent five weeks in Seville, Spain in the School’s exchange program learning Spanish and immersing herself in a different culture. She shares her insightful reflection, “As I continued to work through the language in the play, I realized that it wasn’t really about us being able to connect with those who speak a different language, but what we are doing, is showcasing a storyline of people who are not able to communicate with each other. It’s a message that I would not have seen in the regular Aladdin….there’s more to this story than you might think.“
Senior Jordan Ricketts, who played the highly-animated role of Genie, shouts, “Endurance was my biggest challenge! My role was so high-energy, that I had to learn how to have MUCH more endurance than ever before.”
Junior Shannon McCarthy, who learned a new skill of puppeteering by playing Jafar’s sidekick parrot Iago, shares, “This is a level of puppeteering I have never experienced before, so now I get to explore a character in a much different, more complex way.”
Sophomore Jack McGuire, who played the Sultan, was excited to share, “I can now form sentences in Spanish and I’ve never even taken a Spanish class.”
Together with seven Spanish coaches, Music Director Brittany Schmutzler and Production Director Clark Taylor raised the standard of Mount Vernon performances, removed comfortable parameters, had high expectations of all performers, and shared an environment in which students believed in themselves, ultimately far-surpassing what we thought we knew about theater.
A view from behind the curtain…the magic of what happens on the stage is fueled by those in front of it.
new places, faces, skills, and languages
The wave of excitement and emotion that our students felt when they were finally able to perform this unique, high-energy production for an audience of native Spanish-speakers one night, was a climactic moment for everyone involved and gave new weight to the journey the cast had taken together. In their last year of school, seniors learned a Spanish-speaking role for the first time. 23 students in Kindergarten through grade 6 made the journey to Glenn Campus each day for hours of rehearsals in a really big space with older students and high expectations. All 61, however, had the opportunity to explore new places, faces, skills and challenges, an enormous task extremely appreciated by the hundreds of audience members who visited the “Agra-Black Box” this year.
When I think about the power of theater, I could not agree more with senior Julia Willingham who played Jazmin and says it best, “When I go to a game, I leave with a win or a loss, when I leave theater, I leave with a changed heart. People came to our show thinking ‘Why is it in Spanish?’ and left thinking ‘That was so cool,’ because it was a story, and it meant something, whether you actually understood the language or not.”
Aladdin’s fairy-tale ending exhibited much more than the coming together of two cultures…it signified the herculean accomplishment of 61 cast members.