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Puppet show enlivens Spanish class

A group of MIT students temporarily transformed themselves into goats, foxes, fish and giants during a Spanish-language puppet show for dozens of Cambridge children last week.

"Titeres y Cuentos," or "Puppets and Stories," was the project of Maria Gonzalez-Aguilar's Spanish IV class. On Monday, May 9, the students staged two hour-long shows for students from the Graham and Parks and the Joseph E. Maynard Schools.

The MIT students used puppets designed by Noelia Ortiz-Cortes, a professional puppeteer, to play roles in five skits depicting Latin American folk tales, including "The Hairy Giant" from Ecuador, "Aunt Fox and the Fish" from Venezuela, and "The Goat and the Onion Patch" from Argentina. Assisting Ms. Gonzalez-Aguilar was Brenda Cotto-Escalera, artist in residence at MIT's music and theater arts department, who brought her expertise in children's theater and also helped build the puppet theater and manipulate the puppets.

The project was a different kind of outreach from the Institute's more common programs for bringing science and technology to youth. "In the beginning, they thought, `why are MIT students doing this?'" Ms. Gonzalez-Aguilar said. "I said, `I promise you will enjoy this.' And they became really, really proud of what they were doing and really happy."

Acting and working with children were new but enjoyable experiences for most of the MIT students, despite some initial reservations. "When I heard of the idea, I had pretty negative feelings, like, `Oh gosh, more work!' and `But I can't even act, and I've never put on a puppet show before, far less in Spanish!'" said Dexter Mootoo, a junior in mechanical engineering. "However, as the class proceeded and I became aware of Maria's enthusiasm and general jovial nature, I began to think that maybe the play would be a really enjoyable, relaxed occasion. And I wasn't disappointed."

"It was a lot of fun. It was great seeing the kids," said Dalia Ali, a senior in architecture. She enjoyed it so much, in fact, that she plans to do some teaching back in her native country of Jordan during her year off before attending graduate school. "I'd never thought of it before this," she said.

"It was a great experience," said Arthur Fong, a junior in mechanical engineering who played the title role of "The Hairy Giant" in a large, fearsome monster head alongside the puppet theater. He had never acted before and was shy in front of large groups, he said, but in his costume, "I couldn't see, so that might've helped."

In addition to a providing and enjoyable morning for the children, the role-playing increased the MIT students' knowledge of Spanish. "Through my experience in teaching, I found that when students are practicing the language through something that's not themselves, they're more comfortable and they do much better," Ms. Gonzalez-Aguilar said. Students agreed that it improved their Spanish vocabulary and speaking skills.

"I think it's very important for my students to have a sense of the community and for the community to feel they can come here and do fun things," she added.

Support for the project came from the Peter DeFlorez Fund for Humor.

A version of this article appeared in the May 18, 1994 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 38, Number 33).

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