The purpose of this unit will be to introduce teachers and students to the Engllsh translation (by Charles Pilditch) of “La Carreta” “The Oxcart” an outstanding example of the literary genius of René Marqués, one of puerto Rico’s foremost contemporary playwrights. A Puerto Rican family’s transition from a small, rural area to a San Juan slum and eventually to a barrio of New York City and the inherent conflicts of such a shift is portrayed in a straightforward manner and in simple language auitable for both on-grade-level students grades 6-12 and below-average readers. The theme is uniquely Puerto Rican, but has universal appeal and is therefore suggested for both English-speaking/reading Puerto Rican and non-Puerto Rican students alike.
Biographical data and theatre techniques for staging, coupled with the historical, sociological, psychological, economic, and political background of the play will be developed in this unit. It can therefore be utilized not only by sixth grade self-contained and middle and high school literature classes but by drama, social studies, and history classes as well. Certainly the original Spanish text can be used for Spanish-language and bilingual Spanish-English classes and this unit translated accordingly. My direct experience has been with 6th, 7th, and 8th grade Puerto Rican E.S.O.L. (English to Speakers of Other Languages) pull-out classes whose reading level is usually far below grade. A preliminary reading this year of selections from “The Oxcart” with some of my classes has inspired me to choose this play above others for an in-depth analysis in the future. It was very readable for my students and therefore well-received and stimulating for them. The episodic, serial quality of the writing served to kindle their curiosity as to the eventual outcome of the characters, some of whom draw close parallels to their own lives.
There are many possible approaches to the logistics of the readings; two suggestions follow. The first would divide the play over a ten-week span in which 2 out of 5, 45-minute periods per week, are dedicated to preparation and production of the play. The second would permit a daily reading of one period a day. Thus the play would be completed in 20 consecutive days, or 4 full weeks of classes. Whichever the teacher decides, I feel that continuity is very important to maintain the students’ interest and that the work-in-progress should be relatively short-term in order to keep the momentum going.
Technically, it can be a staged reading in which the student actors (who have previewed the entire play for homework) use their scripts on stage for reading their assigned roles and will walk through the action. The play is in 3 acts and covers approximately 150 pages; therefore, for my particular students, a fully-staged, memorized version before a live audience is not feasible, although a drama class would certainly be able to perform the entire play. For my purposes, selected scenes could be produced in front of a group with a narrator intervening to fill in the synopsis of the other scenes.
The technical language used in the stage directions is advanced for my students, and therefore I would take on the role of director/ narrator. An advanced English or drama class could have a student in this capacity. I feel that all other technical aspects of the play can be handled by the students with sufficient teacher support and supervision. In my classes, which are relatively small due to the nature of E.S.O.L. instruction, students would perform the dual role of actor and technician. Larger classes can have a technical component separate from the dramatic one, thus insuring a shared experience among all members of the class.
Through the entire process, from the initial background information and stage preparation to the final “curtain”, I feel that a professional attitude can be stressed by the teacher so that the experience for students is both enjoyable and serious in its implications for language development. The cultural data and the preparatory technical aspects are as important as the actual play itself and help set the stage. Students can be made aware of the fact that this advance preparation is part of the professional training of their favorite movie and television stars as they get into their roles. Once the play is in production, students often become impatient with repeating scenes which need polishing and must be informed that this too is a part of the process of all professional performances. Students will begin to see the development of the action as a response to the printed page. There is a built-in incentive to read once they realize that their movie idols start out in much the same manner and that the simple fact is that actors must be able to read well. I have seen many otherwise bored students come alive once I have explained this professional process and they begin to read their parts. They eventually understand that the beginning of any acting career is the printed page and that the infusion of the written word with emotion and meaning is the basis of dramatic communication.