Music, math and love might be the commonly-known universal languages, but never underestimate the potential of cows and puppet theater.
A bovine who guides a boy during his family's troubles also offers Spanish speakers and students a chance to hear the story in its native language Sunday when the Mexican puppet theater group Marionetas de la Esquina comes to Juneau. "Emilio and the Enchanted Cow" will be performed in English at 2:30 p.m. and in Spanish at 5 p.m. at the Juneau Arts & Culture Center at 350 Whittier St.
A five-minute preview of the play can be seen online at www.youtube.com/watch?v=1hG7ADYXGCg.
"I'm not afraid of finding people that don't understand all the story or the puppets because it's a story that a lot of people have," said Amaranta Leyva, who wrote the play and is the puppeteer for Emilio. "I'm curious to know how they feel, how they express their emotions."
Nancy DeCherney, executive director of the Juneau Arts & Humanities Council, said this is the first Spanish-language play she's aware of that the organization has booked. She said it's been 10 years since they brought a puppet show to town and the theme of "Emilo and the Enchanted Cow" is appealing.
"I think it was just the cow," she said. "I liked the cow. It balanced our season by offering something that's normally not around."
The story focuses on a boy who, after his parents are separated, changes cities to live with his mother.
"So as to not feel so alone he draws a cow, a green cow," Keyva said. The cow "is very extroverted. The boy doesn't want to be like that because he's upset with his father."
Keyva has written three plays for the theater, which her father, Lucio Espindola, started in 1973. It remains a family company, with her father making puppets and her mother directing. As a result, Keyva said she's had "a very deep language with the puppets" since childhood. Writing for puppets isn't much different than for humans, she says, although the former allows extra creativity.
"Puppets can be objects and you can do things an actor can't, like if he says 'I have a headache' he can put away his head," she said.
The theater mostly performs in Mexico, but "Emilio and the Enchanted Cow" was selected as part of the Kennedy Center's 2007 program in New York City and has been performed elsewhere along the East Coast. Leyva said the Alaska tour, which includes a stop in Ketchikan, occurred simply because their booking manager said the opportunity was available.
"We were so curious to see Alaska and that's why we opted to go," she said.
And officials in Mexico's office of cultural and foreign affairs were pleased by the choice because of the growing Mexican population in Juneau, Leyva said.
Hispanics were 4.2 percent of Juneau's population in 2006, up from 3 percent in 2000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Spanish was spoken at home by 87 percent of Hispanic residents in 2000, but census figures were not available for 2006 since they are updated by the agency every 10 years. In comparison, Natives rose to 12.3 percent in 2006 from 11 percent in 2000, African Americans to 1 percent from 0.4 percent, and Asians to 5.2 percent from 5 percent.
DeCherney thinks there's more than enough Spanish speakers, plus students studying the language, to get a good audience for the second performance at the culture center's theater.
"The Juneau Hispanic community has been using this place, as a matter of fact," she said. "They have this big event (a Cinco De Mayo celebration) here Saturday. It's a real active group of people. We only need to bring in 250 people because we don't have more room than that."
Advance tickets are $19 general audience, $12 for students and seniors, and $5 for children ages 5 and under. They are available at Hearthside Books, Rainy Day Books, the arts council office and online at www.jahc.org. There is a 15 percent discount for groups of five or more for tickets purchased through the arts council. All tickets are $2 higher at the door. For more information call 586-ARTS.
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