Magazine article Americas (English Edition)

Suchitoto + Stratford: Setting the Stage

Magazine article Americas (English Edition)

Suchitoto + Stratford: Setting the Stage

Article excerpt

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

In the town of Suchitoto, an hour and a half north of San Salvador, Es Artes is using theater to revitalize the community. Es Artes, a Canadian and Salvadoran Project, is developing a year-round theater with homegrown talent on stage and behind the scenes with its technical trade school, the escuela taller.

Es Artes was born of a collaboration between the municipality of Suchitoto in El Salvador; CUSO-VSO, a civil society organization based in Ottawa, Canada, that works through volunteers; and the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Canada, the largest classical repertory theatre in North America.

Sixty years ago, Stratford, a small rural town southeast of Toronto, suffered economic hardship when the railway industry left town after 80 years of providing jobs and revenue. Seeing the town's survival threatened, journalist Tom Patterson conceived the idea of turning Stratford into a cultural destination by mounting a theater festival devoted to the works of William Shakespeare. It was an unusual idea, but a committee of concerned citizens shared the vision and backed the dream. Two years later, the inaugural performance of the Shakespeare festival was a production of Richard III with Alec Guinness in the lead role. Now. 60 years later, the Stratford Festival has an annual operating budget of just under $60 million and employs over 1,000 people. The Stratford Shakespeare Festival is the largest theater of its kind in North America today, and the town of Stratford continues to thrive because of it. Stratford is sending volunteers to Es Artes through CUSO-VSO to share their skills as designers, sound and light technicians, master builders, costume designers and cutters, directors and actors. Together Es Artes and the Stratford Shakespeare festival are working to create a viable cultural industry--an income generating theater company that will draw more tourists to Suchitoto and help strengthen the economy, much like it does in Stratford.

The similarities between this small town in El Salvador and the small town in southwestern Ontario, Canada are striking. Geographically, both are located just over an hour away from a major city and an international airport. Both are picturesque and have galleries, boutique restaurants, and hotels. Their historical architecture is well preserved. Stratford was once a small town struggling to rebuild itself, but then Stratford's citizens came together and built the city into the cultural center it is today. The people of Suchitoto also hope to make their city into a tourist destination, one with a center for arts and education. It will provide employment and training for their youth, and it will help turn the tide of poverty by creating opportunities for self-employment, small businesses, and community enterprises. Es Artes also has a direct impact on youth at risk by offering life opportunities through cultural production and skills development.

The students themselves are clear-eyed about the opportunities that Es Artes offers them. Leydi Gabriele Arce Duran was born in El Barrio in 1995. Although she lives in another community, she walks and takes a bus every day to travel to and from Suchitoto.

Her family lives on a small piece of land that accommodates her mother, her two brothers, and two sisters, as well as her aunt and her children, and her grandparents, Den Santiago (who is now very old and ill and so is not working in the fields anymore) and Nina Emilia, who helps at home taking care of her grandchildren. …

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