By Rula Al-Nasrawi
Welcome! Bienvenue! Willkommen! Bienvenidos! Audiences of all ages and backgrounds were welcomed with open arms at the eighth annual International Playhouse last weekend at the Stevenson Event Center. This is the second event of the year produced by the language department, and each of the five acts was performed in one of five different languages: German, Japanese, French, Russian and Spanish.
Dr. Miriam Ellis, main producer of the International Playhouse (IP), introduced UC Santa Cruz to foreign-language theater in 1972 by organizing a series of French plays, and foreign-language theater has been thriving ever since.
“In 1971, we had no foreign theater at UCSC,” Ellis said. “We think this is a service to the campus.”
Ellis, who directed the French performance “Le Malade Imaginaire” by French playwright Molière, explained that although the Playhouse has remained successful over the years, the managers of the show have constantly had to scrounge for a budget.
“We live on the kindness of strangers,” Ellis said.
Because of the lack of budget, the IP functions as a five-unit independent study course. William Nickell, co-producer and literature lecturer, explained the plan to obtain a grant this year that would make IP an actual course.
Ellis and Nickell also discussed plans to create a documentary this week in order to help obtain this grant.
The IP provides a cultural learning space for many people — even the performers come out learning something new.
“This show gives our students the chance to improve their proficiency and cultural understanding,” Ellis said. “It’s good to see a wide spectrum of cultural experience.”
Third-year Shireen Nawawi, an audience member, described the performance as a cultural blend of interesting stories and characters.
“I really enjoyed myself,” Nawawi said. “America is so diverse, and things like this help us see where everyone comes from.”
Each act had an intriguing story to bring to the table. Nickell’s Russian play, “UKSK,” told the story of a group of students who rise up and establish a communist society.
“I had about 21 people involved,” Nickell said. “The more real [the storyline], the more engaged the students will be.”
Nawawi explained that all of the plays, regardless of language or time period, were relevant to cultural issues today.
Four years ago, the IP only performed in four languages. Now, over the course of eight years, the Playhouse has produced shows in 12 different languages.
Ellis discussed the amount of time and devotion IP needs to continue to flourish.
“You better be part of the team,” Ellis said. “Everyone should be interested and involved in each other’s language.”
Although she remains humble, Ellis has put in a great deal of dedication not just to the IP but to all foreign-language theater productions at UCSC. The Playhouse gives Ellis and the rest of the team an outlet to express themselves creatively, and a chance to project all the different colors and textures of the world.
“It’s good to see where ideas come from in the past,” Ellis said. “I get very tired of just working in the garden.”