Dress Rehearsal

It’s holy week in El Salvador, and most of the country in on vacation.  This translates into a week without classes and most of the EsArtes gang is away from Suchitoto. I have to admit I am grateful for the break…last week was beyond chaotic with wig fittings, buy trips and dress rehearsal on saturday.  It continues to be challenging working with partial and changing information, but I believe that is something every volunteer has had to embrace while in Suchitoto. 

We’ve said goodbye to most of the Canadian volunteers. Jeremy, the props maestro, turned set builder and scenic painter is leaving in a little over a week. I will be the last Canadian volunteer at EsArtes for this season. The students are graduating in May, and while there’s been talk about an apprenticeship or specialization phase I don’t know if there are concrete plans about the months ahead.

 The students do look amazing in wigs and costumes. It is great to see the what can be done with many hands and some creative thinking. I feel a mix of admiration and regret for the students, who have to perform in 16th century fashion in 30 degree weather.
The set is being completed this week while everyone’s away, mostly because the stage is finally free from rehearsals. I’m looking forward to seeing everything together next week… with lights, and props and paint.


New house, more mangoes

Fancy shoes for the Imaginary Invalid

The energy has shifted at EsArtes as everyone is preparing for the Imaginary Invalid. Rehearsals are happening in the courtyard everyday…and emotions are running high with the students. My weekend class time has turned into a day where we cross jobs off the list, but I’m trying to cover new material during the week. This last week included measurement taking and fabric identification. I would say that burning and smelling fabric was a big hit!

I’m very excited that Zoila is teaching a natural dyeing class next week. We will be working with almond leaves and hibiscus flowers (the later also makes a delicious drink). Indigo dyeing workshops happen at a few locations in Suchitoto, so I hope to try that as well before I leave.

one of our many meals

I am finally taking much-needed spanish classes. Also, I moved into the house across from EsArtes. Its lovely and big, and has about half a dozen different kinds of fruit trees in the courtyard. I’ve already roasted cacao beans, used limes leaves, oranges and chilis from the yard….and have more mangoes than I know what to do with. The new house also translates into a lot of impromptu dinner parties, with a strange last-minute mix of cross cultural meals.

Today also marks the two year anniversary of the program, an important milestone for both the students and the staff.

trying to untangle wigs, on a broom in my "laundry room"

El Suave Ave

My time continues to fly by in Suchi. We had a few gloriously windy days last week, but the heat is back with a vengeance and I’m craving mid day showers. Also I made my first trip to the beach last sunday, and came home with a proper sunburn.

Yesterday El Salvador held its national election. Compared to Canada it’s a much more of an event, with voters wearing the colors of their party and music, fireworks and public fiestas leading up to the vote. It also ment that the sale of alcohol was prohibited and there was a visible military presence in town. The ‘red’ fmln party won again in Suchitoto. This is the leftist/rebel group…and from what I understand many of the people in the surrounding areas were guerillas or supporters during the war so there’s very strong ties to the party.

I continue to realize how protected we are in the bubble of this little town. Although El Salvador is stigmatized as the most violent country in the Americas I’ve hardly seen violence here. I’ve heard stories and I do notice when we drive through other towns and cities, signs prohibiting guns on buildings and town squares. I feel safe here and lucky for the little things like being able to walk around after dark….something that just isn’t done in other areas. Just because violence is not apparent, there are reminders that Suchi is actively working for peace. For instance, many of the homes here have black bird stencils with the words “this home is free from violence against women” a project from another NGO. And there are projects like EsArtes that provide and alternative community to gangs, as well as training and opportunities for youth.

the gyspy
The classes I’m teaching continue to go well…mostly. We have only two sewing machines, and a scary serger so it’s challenging to give projects that require more that hand sewing. Currently we’re making personals bags for the racks and learning how to flat back so there’s a bit of everything happening. The work for remounting Moliere is also coming along, although it is mostly tweaks and alterations in wardrobe land there have been a few character changes and builds like this gypsy.

It is interesting how you can adapt when you have limited options…although our workspace is rather “alternative” there is a lot of action that happens in it.

rana en el bano...space is at a premium in the costume shop


Practicing hand stitching

We got through about 3/4 of the scheduled fittings, which I think is pretty great all considering. I also held the first wardrobe class on friday covering the different roles within a costume department and some hand stitching.  It is both encouraging and rewarding to be working with such willing learners. 

Cucarachota next to a quarter!

Wardrobe management is not without it challenges in Suchitoto, and I’m just beginning to realize the ways in which I will need to adapt. For example there is no washing machine at EsArtes so everything has to be done by hand. Also this is an extremely humid environment, making the storage of costumes and fabric extra challenging. (Please feel free to send me advice and ideas about this one). I also encountered a super-mama cockroach in the sewing room a few days ago. Freaky for this chica but pretty tame considering it is recommended that we shake our clothes and tap out or shoes for scorpions.

I also wanted to share an image from the  Suchitoto project blog. There’s a great post from a recent trip to San Sabastien and information on the traditional weaving of that region.

¿pinata, por qué no?

I’m not writing as much as I had expected – a result of my increased activity and not for lack of excitement. We celebrated the birthday of the youngest member at EsArtes who turned 10 last saturday. We had cake and a pinata, which was attached to a pulley system to make it more challenging. I even took a few unsuccessful swings at the thing and it was the first time a pinata hit me back!

Also Escuella Taller, the local trade school, had their student graduation last week. It was great to see everyone dressed up and to listen (through translation) to the impassioned speeches of the director and the mayor. Unfortunately, the main funding source of the school pulled out so this great program is coming to an end. In the last 2 years they have trained carpenters, welders, electricians and seamstresses.

Funding is one of the main topics around here, and our energetic leaders Melissa and Tatiana are meeting around the clock to establish new relationships for support. There is a reporter from the Toronto Star here this week, and a rather steady stream of visitors interested or connected to the project. Although I’m not really in the loop to know any details, the project does seem to be gaining momentum in the community and abroad…a promising sign for it’s continued success.

This week also marked the arrival of my Salvadoran counterpart, Zoila! Zoila is the mother of 3 EsArtes students and has been working as the local wardrobe coordinator. I am her 4th wardrobe volunteer from Canada, so I guess she’s used to bad spanglish and miming. We’ve been working hard together on an inventory of existing stock and pulling costumes together for the upcoming remount of the Imaginary Invalid. We have 28 fittings on saturday, which seemed very dooable until I wrote it out. Haha, it will be an exciting day!

EsArtes Props Class


Lago Suchitla

So here’s some things I’ve learned so far.

número uno – It’s hot in Suchitoto, all day and evening. It will continue to get hotter while I’m here so there’s little chance that my Canadian body will acclimatize. Would I rather be back in winter? Heck No!

número dosPapusas are delicious thick tortillas filled with ingredients like beans, cheese, pork and onions topped with cortido, a kind of spicy coleslaw. They are messy and they are good.

I’ve been spending this first week getting to know Suchitoto, the staff at EsArtes, the students and rest of the volunteers.  Since EsArtes is not currently building  a new show there’s been a chance to focus on classes and training. Some great workshops are happening already for props building and design and I’ve had the chance to sit in on some “mock” production meetings the students are doing as an exercise. Next week I’ll enter the workshop line-up with  the wonderful world of wardrobe 101.

I’ve also been delving into the wardrobe area, doing some organizing and trying to get sense of how to make the most out of the space and equipment. There is also the possibility of working with some students from Escuela Taller ( the technical college in town) for pattern drafting classes, but I will have a better idea about that next week.

Duct tape dress froms

¡el salvador mañana!

…well, actually I fly Victoria to San Francisco to Houston spend the night there, and then fly to El Salvador the following day. If there are no delays I will be in Suchitoto the day after tomorrow. I’m packed and I think as prepared as I can be for the 3 months ahead.

I’ve been lucky to have spent the last few weeks in the costume shop at the opera, working on an upcoming production of Carmen. Not only did it eat up a bit of my anxious energy to be stitching, but I was able to throw a lot of questions out to the collective knowledge of talented ladies in the wardrobe. They had great advice and ideas of how to address some of the costume concerns I’ve been having, as well as tips for parasite prevention and what to bring.

All I have left to do is download some podcasts and I’m ready to go!