“Navidad en La Vecindad” translates to “Christmas in the Neighborhood” or “Christmas in the Community.” It is the title of an original play performed by the students of a children’s theater workshop in Austin, Texas in Dec. 2012. The workshop was hosted by Austin-based theater troupe, Proyecto Teatro, and was held in the months preceeding. The play's title, like every other aspect of the production, was planned, designed, and executed by the children themselves.

The participants ranged from ages seven to 12. Many had little to no experience in the theatrical arts but under the supervision of two dedicated Proyecto Teatro staff, the workshop immersed these children in all aspects of theater. They were the playwrights, the set designers, the costume and makeup artists, and the actors.

The technical skills gained by the children during the three month workshop were only part of the mission for Proyecto Teatro however. The other was a fostering and upholding of Hispanic culture for the children. All were of Mexican heritage and held various levels of conversational Spanish. Proyecto Teatro’s staff was firm however in maintaining a Spanish-only environment as children developed the technical and creative processes of theater arts. Staff and children worked together to also develop a narrative that dealt with themes central to Mexican American culture - from the Catholic Church to pop music.

This linguistic and cultural immersion through the arts provided the children an opportunity to explore, reveal, and ultimately connect with their Mexican American identity. This opportunity is often lost to many immigrants as they and their families cope with relocation abroad.

This photo story follows the process from beginning to end of “Navidad en la Vecindad.” From late night practices; to set design shopping trips around Austin; to the play’s premiere at the Southwest Key School in Austin, Texas on Dec. 14, 2012.

El director del programa, Luis Ordaz, hablándoles a los estudiantes del taller sobre el manejo de las emociones en la actuación. / Director of the program, Luis Ordaz, mentoring children early in the workshop on the use of expressive emotions in acting.

Estudiantes diseñando sus peinados y maquillaje para la obra. / Students designing hair and makeup to be used in the play.

Los estudiantes estan totalmente involucrados en todos los aspectos de la producción de la obra, incluyendo el diseño de su propio vestuario. / Students are immersed in all levels of production for the play, including designing their own wardrobe.

Para mediados de noviembre, el taller se reune tres veces a la semana en un salón de clase en el Southwest Key School, en el este de Austin. Comienzan todas las noches haciendo, primeramente, entrar en calor la voz y el cuerpo. / By mid-November, practices are held three times a week at a classroom in Southwest Key School in East Austin. Practices begin each night with vocal and body warm-ups.

Todos los ensayos concluyen con recitales del guión, a medida que los estudiantes mayores lo desarrollan. / Each practice ends in turn with cast readings of the script as it is developed by older students.

A principios de diciembre, el taller completo visita varias tiendas de articulos usados para conseguir utilerías de escenario y vestuario. / Early in December, the entire workshop travels to thrift stores around Austin as students collect set design and additional wardrobe articles.

El taller tiene fondos limitados, por eso los estudiantes tienen que cuidar y administrar sus propios gastos. / The workshop has a limited fund and the students track and manage their own expenditures.

A mediados de diciembre, con solamente una semana hasta el estreno de la obra, los estudiantes siguen practicando, ahora diariamente, después de la escuela. / By mid-December with only a week remaining until the premier of the play, students continue practicing after school on now daily basis.

El director Luis Ordaz, sigue dirigiendo a los estudiantes pero ahora como consultor, mientras ellos practican sus escenas. / Director Luis Ordaz still manages the students but often takes an advisory role as the students rehearsed their scenes time and again.

Varias utilerías detrás de bastidores la noche del estreno. / Various props set back stage on the night of the premier.

Ordaz maquillando a los actores mientras que estos ensayan sus lineas antes del estreno. / Ordaz applies makeup as actors rehearse their lines before the show’s opening.

Una actríz practicando su canto mientras la maquillan. / An actress practices her singing lines as her makeup is applied.

Ordaz y los otros adultos miembros de Proyecto Teatro son los encargados del maquillaje y prueba de vestuario pero en los últimos caldeados momentos, antes del estreno, los estudiantes se ayudan unos a otros con los detalles finales. / Ordaz and other adult members of Proyecto Teatro lead the make-up and clothing fitting but in the final heated moments before the show, students help one another with final touches.

Ahora, totalmente maquillados y con sus vestuarios completos, los estudiantes forman una fila para salir de su salón de clase, donde habían practicado durante los últimos tres meses, antes de subir al escenario. / Now in full wardrobe and makeup, students line up to leave their classroom of the past three months and approach the stage.

Estudiantes detrás de bastidores mientras una gran multitud de padres, amigos y miembros de la comunidad esperan el comienzo de la obra. / Students backstage as a large crowd of parents, friends, and community members await the start of the show.

La obra empieza – con actores haciendo el papel de ángeles y diablillos peleando sobre los detalles de una fiesta navideña. / The play begins with actors playing the roles of angels and demons that quarrel over preparations for a Christmas party.

Un actor joven esperando detrás de bastidores por el momento de su entrada. / A young actor waits backstage for his entrance.

Al terminar la obra, todo el reparto y el director Luis Ordaz, saludan a la audiencia que aplaude emocionada. / At the show’s end, the entire cast and Director, Luis Ordaz, wave to cheering audiences.

Ordaz empieza a desarmar el escenario al final de la noche. / Ordaz begins dismantling the stage at the end of the night.