The Performance

In a two-hour blur, all of the week’s hard work came to life. Each performance had more energy, excitement, and comedic timing than I’d ever seen of them in rehearsal and the audience loved every minute. As PCVs, hosting a meeting of 10 people is common, and an audience of 30 is a great success. While we started with a crowd just shy of 100, by the night’s peak there were over 130 in attendance from babies to grandparents. Dozens of people walking down the street stopped in the middle of the road to watch- incoming cars had to honk to get the bystanders to move they were so enthralled. 

The show started with a song by 13 year old Fidel “I Want to be an Adventurer” about the rugged Panamanian life with a flag cape, backup drummers, and dramatic gestures. The first play, Tres Hijos, was an adaptation of the three little pigs. Instead of a wolf blowing down the house, a parasite comes and attacks those who do not properly wash their hands! Made up of teens from Alto Caballero, their parents and families loved seeing their kids in the limelight.

We continued with a play written, directed, and acted out by the teens from Bahia Azul in Bocas del Toro about a little orphan boy who had an elaborate costume made out of an old rice sack! Bochinche was the next play, also of teens from Alto Caballero. In Spanish bochinche means gossip, and the play was about how gossip and little lies, particularly regarding HIV and sexual activity, can have severe negative consequences on one’s health, reputation, and relationships. The energy and sass the teens brought to this performance really amped up the comedy.

The Ngäbe-Bugle audience went wild for the cultural dances of the visiting Emberá and Wounaan participants. The group from the Darien was younger than the rest by a few years, had an exhausting 3-day journey to get to camp, and were a minority among minorities. It was so amazing to see the support one indigenous group showed for another as they cheered the tiny dancers on. While they had been quiet throughout the week, they came to life with the support of an enthusiastic audience. At the end of the night Yadilma, a 14 year old Wounaan girl, rushed up to the microphone to express her gratitude towards the community for receiving her and her friends so warmly and graciously.

The next play, of teens from nearby Cerro Ceniza, was Vamos al Rio. In rural Panama, “going to the river” with someone means more than just washing up. In this play a teenager and his girlfriend go to the river in the middle of the night- only to get caught by his parents already there! A hilariously awkward discussion of the birds, bees, HIV, and relationships followed. Heliodoro, who played the father, stole the show and the audience was rolling out of their seats laughing. The cast ran offstage to a standing ovation and tackled me in hugs, giggles, and giddy chatter. I can’t wait to visit Ceniza to see them perform it for their own community!

Abraham and Astry, both of Alto Caballero got lots of cheers for their Bachata dance while the group from Bahia Azul prepared their play, Sueños de Agua. An adaptation of Dicken’s Christmas Carol, a lazy water committee president drinks a little too much homemade corn brew in the fields and has 3 strange dreams that lead him to have a change of heart and overhaul the town water system. The community members laughed at all the colloquialisms and empathized greatly with the struggles of having an effective committee. Still in a lighthearted mood from the previous play, the sudden revelation the little girl had died in a cholera epidemic was an unexpected and dramatic twist of events stunning everyone into silence. It was the most poignant moment of the evening.

Bella, a 15 year old girl from Ceniza sang ‘La Mil Rosa’ acapella beautifully before the Darien group returned with their play Sistema de Defensa. When the worm monster attacks, look to Rambo Cloro to disinfect, boil, or use UV rays for protection! It was a very physical play with great costumes and again, I was blown away by the unprecedented energy the actors put into it. While Sistema cleared, Jose Pablo, the muchacho of muchachos, sang ‘Esperanza’, a crowd favorite. What he may lack in vocal training he more than makes up for in commitment and passion!

Margarita Cochinita was the play presented by the teens from Quebrada Pastor. A little girl with lots of cochina (dirty) habits gets sick from not washing her hands and the health promoter and doctor help explain how invisible bacteria affects us and is defeated by hand soap! Just one day prior, not one person in this 13 minute play was memorized (it wasn’t required due to short rehearsal time) but come show time, there wasn’t a single script onstage!

Abraham performed again, doing an impressively self choreographed hip hop dance to ‘Somebody’ that had everyone on their feet and recording on their phones. The final play of the evening was once again local Alto Caballero teens. Amigos Nuevos tackled the stigmas and prejudices that HIV-positive individuals face on a daily basis. In the end it was decided that everyone could be friends; it would just take some education, effective communication, and time to adjust.

Heliodoro returned to recite a patriotic poem, “Land of Panama” while the rest of us lined up and prepared to come on for the finale. We adapted the popular Enqrique Iglesias song ‘Bailando’ to be ‘Lavando’ about handwashing, complete with lyrics about diarrhea and flatulence, dance moves like the Carlton and grapevine, and a lot of freestyle. 

The evening ended by presenting certificates to all the participants and with various people rushing onstage to thank us for bringing this camp to Alto Caballero. One man said, “Rich people pay lots of money to travel to cities to see art like this. We’ve been blessed tonight to have it come to us and my only regret is that the rest of the town isn’t here to see it. They really missed out on something beautiful. I am so impressed with the work these teenagers have done in such a short amount of time. They are so talented and intelligent and I am proud to welcome them into my community.”

The post-show adrenaline rush provoked an epic onstage dance party while the older people went back for more food. In a flurry of dance moves, high fives, hugs, and handshakes it was suddenly over. 

To say it was a dream come true would be an understatement.