Georgetown University hosted a group of young performers to put on a musical that highlights the experiences of immigrant families in Poulton Hall Feb. 21.
The musical, titled “The Traveling Serialized Adventures of Kid Quixote,” featured 15 students aged 6 to 17 who translated and adapted the original Spanish version of “Don Quixote” into a bilingual story with Still Waters in a Storm, an afterschool program based in Brooklyn, New York. During the event, students used a mix of Spanish and English, prose and song, and fictional and nonfictional stories to convey their own interpretation of the classic novel.
The original story of “Don Quixote,” written by Miguel de Cervantes in the 17th century, is about a knight who comes across many obstacles while traveling through Spain to serve his nation. The story is both timeless and relatable, especially for Spanish-speaking students, and serves as an excellent learning tool for students who come from immigrant backgrounds, according to Chief of Still Waters in a Storm Stephen Haff.
“Like any great work of art it yields treasures and speaks truth across generations,” Haff wrote in an email to The Hoya. “I also like to present my students with projects that seem to be impossible, so that they learn that nothing is beyond them. The novel is common ground for us and for our audiences.”
Still Waters in a Storm was founded in 2009 to help students, especially those from low-income and immigrant backgrounds, practice reading, writing and acting in a safe environment, according to Haff.
“Our one rule is ‘Everyone listens to everyone,’ a simple algorithm for teaching and learning in which every person is considered equally important,” Haff wrote.
At the event, the students of Still Waters in a Storm read aloud an excerpt from a letter they received through correspondence with girls who had been separated from their families, according to Haff.
“We had a brief opportunity to correspond with a group of girls from Guatemala and Honduras who were separated from their families,” Haff wrote. “My students became attached to their long-distance friends and determined to tell their story wherever we go.”
The students use their performance to express and understand different perspectives on global issues, Haff wrote.
“They wish they could set the girls free, but all they can do is liberate their stories and try to inspire audiences to care about them,” Haff wrote. “Reading the letter is also in keeping with the novel Don Quixote, in the sense that it represents a multiplicity of narrative voice and a deliberate, metatheatrical awareness that the actors are storytellers.”
This musical adaptation of “Don Quixote” strives to incorporate the ideas of all the student performers, according to Kim Sherman, a composer at Still Waters in a Storm.
“Every choice in translation, dialogue writing and songwriting was made collectively,” Sherman said in an interview with The Hoya. “Every kid, no matter how young, had input, and no decisions were made without consensus of the group.”
The musical was co-sponsored by the Laboratory for Global Performance and Politics, the Georgetown Humanities Initiative and the department of performing arts.
The success of the project can be seen through its impact on the students and families involved, according to Derek Goldman, professor of theater and performance studies and co-founding director of The Lab.
“It was wonderful – really inspiring and moving and many commented that it was palpable the huge impact this project has had on the lives of all the children and families participating, as well as on the perception of immigrant communities among audiences,” Goldman wrote in an email to The Hoya.
The Lab, founded in 2012, is the only joint initiative between the School of Foreign Service and Georgetown College created with a mission to harness the power of performance to humanize global politics, according to Goldman.
The musical is meant to both showcase the talent of its student performers and encourage greater understanding of the immigrant experience, according to Haff.
“I hope people who see the show can experience how brilliant these kids are, and by extension appreciate the genius of children in general,” Haff wrote. “I also hope they recognize that immigrants and refugees come to this country with much to give, not to take. The ultimate goal, on behalf of the kids and their families, is compassion.”