Music, dance and action-packed story help teach languages

What’s the difference between mole and a mole? It all depends on what language you’re speaking, said Cyndi Turtledove, whose young team of actors are prepared to answer the question in their playful and educational new show “Tesoro — The Treasure of Sierra’s Padre.”

“Theater is the best teacher ever invented,” said Turtledove, the director of LESTA Bilingual Theater in Hillsboro. “It’s the best way to teach anything, and language is no exception. Think about all the people who say ‘Gosh, I took Spanish in college, or I took Spanish in high school and I don’t remember any of it.’ Well, the bilingual-ness of our plays helps Latinos improve their English and Anglos learn Spanish.”

The play doesn’t much feel like a formal lesson. There is singing and dancing, including a traditional dance from the state of Chiapas called "el rascakpetate." There are treasure hunters chased by a sheriff and his posse, and a team of tricksters trying to keep Sierra from finding her father’s treasure. There is even a parody on a Humphrey Bogart's classic film before they finally find the mysterious treasure.

The entire show is written using both Spanish and English, but Turtledove said everyone can understand it.

“I write in almost alternating English and Spanish lines,” Turtledove explained, “but you don’t have to know Spanish to understand it. To give you an idea, an actor might ask a question in English and the response to that question will be in Spanish, or vice versa.”

Turtledove said this approach, along with lots of repetition and translation, will make the entire conversation abundantly clear, regardless of the language used.

Turtledove, who has been working in theater for 65 years, brought bilingual theater to Washington County in 2004 after spending 18 years in Mexico. When she left for Mexico in 1986 she planned to stay three months, living frugally and spending most of her time writing.

“I hate heat and I hate humidity,” she said, “so I didn’t think there was any way I would stay more than three months. But I started doing theater in a restaurant — a lot of parodies about life in San Miguel — and just ended up staying.”

She was later hired by a Mexican university to teach English, where she began experimenting with bilingual theater as a vehicle for teaching language. She found it tremendously effective, and when she finally moved back to Cornelius to be closer to her family, she brought the idea of LESTA with her.

“I’ve been involved in theater since I was 10 years old,” she said. “I’m 75 now and I know that my calling is to teach through bilingual theater — sharing in a really fun way to educate my actors and the audience.”

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