I took Spanish throughout high school. Hell, I kept taking it until this semester, when I decided that I preferred grammar to studying Spanish lit and found that I had taken all of the grammar courses I could possibly get into.
But this isn’t about college. It’s about high school.
Hey, remember when I said that I’m a horrible public speaker? Well, there is one notable exception. I am not quite as bad at it when I’m speaking Spanish. More specifically, I can get past my psuedo-phobia if I’m playing the part of rich, evil, Spanish dude. The angrier the role the better.
I found this out in 11th grade. That was the year I took Spanish IV with Mr. Herrera. He was Columbian and the single best Spanish teacher I have ever had. Near the end of the year, he set up this thing called UVAE: Una Ventana al Espanol. A Window to Spanish.
Well, since I wasn’t confident enough to sing, graceful enough to dance, or well-versed enough to learn a Spanish song on guitar, I was placed into the “skit” category. He found us a play, we took out about half of the dialogue, and everyone got a part. There were almost no female parts, so I became the antagonist: a rich, overweight man who believed that his wooden horse (the Most Beautiful Wooden Horse in the World) had been wrongfully stolen from him. My lines were relatively simple. I had to explain what had happened, in my opinion, and occasionally blurt out, “Me han robado, Senora Juez” in scandalized tones. I was damn good at it.
The day of UVAE, I borrowed my father’s clothing, shoved a pillow into my shirt, drew some stubble on my face with pen, greased back my hair, and set off to school with some lingering nervousness. Our set was simple- a box cut so that the corners faced the audience were our judge’s podium and witness box. The rest of the cast sat in chairs off to the side.
We performed phenomenally. Later, I was told by a French student that although he couldn’t understand what I was saying, I sounded good: angry and Spanish. My mom’s extra coaching on pronunciation had paid off! (My mom’s Cuban, so she’s helped me out many times over the years when I practice my Spanish… she’ll probably come up in another post, so I’ll leave it at that.)
In case you were wondering, the Most Beautiful Wooden Horse in the World was made of scrap lumber and was missing a leg. There were nails sticking out of it in a couple places too (not featured in the picture).
The rest of UVAE was amazing. There was tango, several salsa dancers dancing tandemly, a couple girls singing a Juanes song, and a couple more skits.
The next year, Mr. Herrera’s visa expired and he had to go home to Columbia. I went to find the person in charge of the event and found Mrs. Wilkins. Mrs. Wilkins should have sent off warning bells immediately. However, I figured that she sounded reliable enough in her capacity as head of the Spanish Club.
I was entirely wrong. I volunteered to adapt a play from a Latin American folk tale and help perform it. I wound up putting together three scripts from folk tales and bringing them to her.
She glanced at them, but never checked my grammar. My mom wound up doing that for me. That set the tone for the rest of the event. Mrs. Wilkins did absolutely nothing during this entire process. She was always busy, or forgetting to do something. I’d ask her if she had asked her classes about volunteers and she would give me a blank look. In hindsight, she was quite possibly the worst candidate for UVAE coordinator that they could have chosen.
A couple weeks later, I found myself recruiting actors and actresses from my Spanish class, hounding people to join up with UVAE, and taking on three acting roles as well as volunteering to play a couple songs on guitar with a friend of mine. Hannah and I got a bunch of people together at her house and we put together some rather lazy props and sets (it was all last-minute at this point). We made a paper-mache horse-head for one of the skits. It was the best prop out of all of our props (not including the tree we borrowed from the Drama department).
Before I continue, let me explain Eric. Eric was a kid in my class who had grown up overseas. His parents spoke several languages, so he did as well (mostly). He knew some French, some German, and he was practically fluent in Spanish. He was also an excellent student and involved in ROTC. He said he could take a couple parts in the skits. I readily agreed- out of all of the actors I could find, he seemed like the most reliable.
Come the day of UVAE:
Nobody is where they should be. Hannah fell sick in the night and we have to shuffle things around. Eric arrives last minute.
We go on stage. Everyone forgets a couple lines, but Eric forgets almost all of his and ad-libs EVERYTHING. He’s nervous, so he hmmms and errrrrrrs throughout his acting. When I’m interacting with him on stage, I have to cover with somewhat hesitant Spanish. I’m sweating like a pig. I can’t help with anything when he’s talking to other actors on stage since it would look strange for the antagonist to give hints to the protagonists.
The props are not in the right spot. The most obvious is the Tree. It’s massive, and right on the edge of the stage. We’re supposed to be “camping” in front of it, but we wind up right behind it. The audience probably can’t see us.
I watch, helplessly, as they butcher the scripts that I had spent so much time revising and rewriting.
I have soaked through the shirt I’m wearing by the time I play Malaguena (by myself) in front of the audience. I took off my jacket, which, I reflect, may have been a mistake. I fumble on the strings a couple times because there is sweat on my fingers.
The best part is the dancing. I managed to get a friend I knew from Creative Writing to volunteer. She brought in her Puerto Rican friend and they are tearing it up onstage.
Somebody else sings a song, I think, but I’m emotionally exhausted at this point. I think, “There’s no possible way for this to get any more embarrassing.” But I’m wrong.
In the space of a second, the long-forgotten Mrs. Wilkins has gone on stage. She makes some cursory remarks about Mr. Herrera and UVAE… then she says, “This could not be possible if it weren’t for Erin’s hard work.” Somebody gives me a nudge and I’m onstage.
The clapping is forced in the way that most high school clapping is. I did not want my name attached to this mess. I’m sure my forehead is shiny due to the sweat and my drawn-on stubble is probably uneven now. I smile, a gut reaction at this point.
It’s awkward because we don’t know how to end it. Music blares. Luis, one of the actors, has put on the Horse’s head and is leading everybody on stage for an impromptu dance party. There are not enough people on stage for me to hide. I don’t know how to dance. There are not enough people on stage for this to appear fun, and the varying stages of dancing (from mine, which is more like a shuffle-move arms-shuffle, to the salsa dancers who are again tearing things up) make it look like we haven’t planned this (which is true.)
The bright side to this entire ordeal was that most of the students were NOT Spanish-speakers. The French class ALWAYS comes to UVAE. Why? Hell if I know.