Episode 16: Shakespeare en la montaña

When Nicolás Barreto went up the mountains of Venezuela for the first time, he was chasing after a girl. There he worked alongside her for a month putting together a play that would inaugurate the highest theater in the country. He came down from that mountain transformed, filled with a love he wasn’t expecting.

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Transcript

Nicolás: Esta es una historia de amor que no terminó como yo esperaba.

Martina: That’s Nicolás Barreto. The setting of his story is the páramo, or high moorland, at the end of the Andean mountain range in Venezuela. It’s the highest and coldest region of this otherwise tropical country.

Nicolás: Subí a ese lugar remoto en el año 1997. Iba por una mujer.

Martina: Nicolás and the woman he was chasing went there to put on a play—specifically, a comedy full of love, magical places and unexpected situations. Little did Nicolás know then that the play’s themes would make their way into his real life.

Nicolás: Bajé de esa montaña transformado en una persona diferente, pero no de la forma que pensé.

Martina: Welcome to the Duolingo Spanish Podcast — I’m your host, Martina Castro, and each episode we bring you fascinating first-person stories from Spanish speakers across the world. The storyteller will be using intermediate Spanish and I will be chiming in for context, in English. But these are not language lessons, they're real life lessons through language.

Martina: Before Nicolás took his trip up to the páramo, he was an unmotivated university student in Caracas, Venezuela. He was 21 years old, and his only interest was music. Well, music, and Erika.

Nicolás: Érika era una artista con mucha confianza en sí misma. Le gustaba el teatro y la fotografía. Tenía ojos marrones grandes y una mirada profunda. Era alta, delgada y de piel marrón. En secreto, yo estaba enamorado de ella y preparado para hacer cualquier cosa por su amor.

Martina: Nicolás and Érika were your typical twenty-somethings in search of their future. They were classmates at the university in Caracas.

Nicolás: Érika siempre me gustó, pero mi amor por ella creció cuando comenzamos a ir a los mismos eventos y a estudiar juntos. Después de un tiempo, nos hicimos buenos amigos.

Martina: In their last year of school, they were both disappointed because they felt like their major —Educational Sciences— didn’t leave room for what they most loved: art and culture.

Nicolás: Pero un día, una profesora nos invitó, a Érika y a mí, a participar en un proyecto para educar a jóvenes usando el teatro.

Martina: As the professor was talking to them, Nicolás saw the way Érika practically jumped with joy. She loved theater, and she agreed to participate without a second thought.

Nicolás: A mí también me gustaba el teatro, como espectador, no como actor. A diferencia de Érika, yo era muy tímido. Pero acepté la invitación: sabía que era la única forma de pasar más tiempo con ella.

Martina: To participate in the theater project they would go to San Rafael del Páramo, one of the highest and most remote villages in the country. They would debut a work that would inaugurate a theater there.

Nicolás: Era un teatro simple y rústico, hecho de madera y piedras. El más alto del país.

Nicolás: Finalmente llegó el día. Érika y yo estábamos sentados en el autobús en ruta a una de las montañas más altas de Venezuela. El viaje iba a ser de 14 horas.

Martina: Fourteen hours sitting on a bus isn’t ideal for most people, but Nicolás was happy for every minute he got to spend by Érika’s side.

Nicolás: Érika y yo hablamos durante todo el viaje. En la noche, ella se durmió con su cabeza junto a mí. Yo no lo podía creer, estaba muy feliz de estar junto a ella.

Martina: As the sun rose, Nicolás started to see small villages in the mountains.

Nicolás: Por la ventana vi caminos de tierra y pequeñas casas tradicionales hechas de piedra, madera y con paredes blancas. También vi granjas y cultivos de zanahorias, papas, lechuga, coliflor y brócoli. Las personas locales trabajaban muy duro en el campo. El páramo era un espectáculo hermoso y fantástico.

Martina: As soon as they arrived in the village, they met the rest of the theater group from the university. After welcoming them excitedly, the group leader revealed what their mission would be over the next month:

Nicolás: Preparar la obra de teatro “Sueño de una noche de verano”, de William Shakespeare, con cien niños y jóvenes de la región.

Martina: “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is one of Shakespeare’s most popular plays. It’s a comedy about mix-ups that revolve around the wedding of two young lovers who are put under a spell by fairies in the forest. That’s where most of the play takes place.

Nicolás: Es una historia de amor entre personas jóvenes que se rebelan a las restricciones de los adultos.

Martina: Nicolás immediately thought to himself, “Shakespeare in this rural area of Venezuela? With kids and teenagers who don’t even know what theater is?”

Nicolás: Los jóvenes de la comunidad no tenían experiencia en el teatro y eran muy tímidos, como yo.

Martina: Rather quickly they turned to Nicolás and asked, “So what can you do to help with the play?” Shyly, he replied that he was a musician and that he knew how to play the guitar.

Nicolás: Me dijeron que mi tarea iba a ser enseñarle a los niños sobre música a través de actividades divertidas. Yo no tenía idea de qué iba a hacer. Érika se reía de mí: ella sabía que yo no estaba preparado.

Martina: San Rafael del Páramo is a town of about 600 people. Unlike urban Venezuelans, who are known for being gregarious, the people in the mountain areas are perceived as being more quiet and introspective.

Nicolás: Iba a ser un proyecto difícil y grande y solo teníamos un mes para completarlo. Esa noche no pude dormir. Estaba muy preocupado. Me preguntaba: “¿En qué problema me metí por mi amor por Érika? ¿Qué va a pensar si mi trabajo es un desastre?”.

Martina: The next day Nicolás found himself in front of a group of teenagers all staring at him blankly. Their wary faces seemed to be saying, “Who are you? And what are you doing here?” None of them had ever performed in public before.

Nicolás: Yo estaba muy nervioso, pero pensé en una idea. Con mi guitarra toqué “La Bamba”, una canción que todos conocían. Organicé a los niños y jóvenes en grupos. Un grupo cantaba la canción. Otro grupo seguía el ritmo. El último grupo bailaba. ¡Todos sonreían y disfrutaban!

Martina: At the end of that day Nicolás had a better idea of what he would do for the rest of the month.

Nicolás: Me sentía seguro y emocionado por el trabajo. Iba a ser el encargado de la música de la obra. Pero tuvimos un problema muy grande: muchos de los niños y jóvenes no sabían leer. Y la historia de Shakespeare era difícil hasta para un actor con experiencia.

Martina: So they came up with a plan: each day they read the play out loud to the actors. They explained the most important passages, so that the kids could write new lines in their own words.

Nicolás: El resultado de esa idea fue increíble. Los estudiantes inventaron su propia versión de la historia: hermosa, simple y fácil de entender.

Martina: Érika’s extensive theater experience and her uninhibited personality made her and Nicolás the perfect team. But their schedule was so demanding that they didn’t have much free time. Each night, they returned to their hostel, exhausted.

Nicolás: Una noche mientras caminábamos al hostal, Érika me dijo: “Nico, estos días eres una persona diferente. Antes de venir al páramo eras muy tímido, pero ahora haces cosas que nunca imaginé. ¿Cómo lo hiciste?”.

Martina: It was true, Nicolás was not the same as when he’d first arrived in the village. He had never before felt so natural speaking in front of so many people. What had made him change?

Nicolás: Usé todas mis energías y le respondí: “Fue el amor”. Ella me miró sin entender y preguntó: “¿Amor a qué?”.

Martina: “Love of what?” Érika replied, confused. Nicolás quickly made up a line – love of doing things well, teaching people to improve themselves, you know… love of the play they were working on.

Nicolás: No era falso, pero en realidad quería decir algo diferente: que mi amor por ella me daba fuerzas.

Martina: Once again, Nicolás spent the entire night awake, this time berating himself for his lack of courage to tell Érika how he really felt about her. But even though it was painful to think about that moment, Érika’s question and the answer he improvised led him to realize something really important:

Nicolás: Con cada actividad nueva mi interés en el proyecto aumentaba. También comenzaba a sentirme más seguro de mí mismo, a tener más confianza. Y esto me hizo tomar una decisión: el día de la presentación iba a clarificar las cosas con Érika… le iba a confesar mi amor.

Martina: But then, a week before finishing the project, Érika got some unexpected news from home.

Nicolás: Su hermana pequeña estaba enferma y su familia le pidió regresar a Caracas para pasar tiempo con ella.

Martina: Before leaving, she made Nicolás promise that he would stay and finish what they had started together. He hesitated for a moment. After all, he had only gone there to follow her.

Nicolás: Finalmente decidí quedarme y completar la obra como Erika me pidió. Le dije adiós y le di un gran abrazo. Ahora la responsabilidad por la obra y educar a los jóvenes era solo mía.

Martina: One week after Érika left, it was opening night. A hundred young people were about to perform Shakespeare with a Venezuelan flavor in that magical place. The air was heavy with anxiety and inspiration.

Nicolás: Todos estábamos nerviosos. Había silencio total en la audiencia. Pero, poco a poco, la gente empezó a reír y a divertirse.

Martina: There was one scene Nicolás was especially nervous about. A group of kids would have to do a dance that Érika had choreographed, and in rehearsals they had never managed to get it right. When the scene began, Nicolás, who was playing guitar off stage, was on pins and needles.

Nicolás: Finalmente llegó el momento. El grupo completó la coreografía a la perfección. ¡No lo podía creer! Todos sonreían, felices, disfrutando los aplausos de la audiencia.

Martina: As the play ended, for the first time ever that little theater in the middle of the Venezuelan Andes echoed with thunderous applause.

Nicolás: En el páramo yo no encontré el amor de Érika.

Martina: But he did find a new passion for theater.

Nicolás: Entendí que el teatro es una forma especial de educar fuera de un salón de clases. Esa se convirtió en mi principal motivación.

Martina: Nicolás Barreto is director of the UCAB Theater, a teacher, and an artist in Caracas, Venezuela. He and Érika remain good friends to this day. If you liked this story, we’d love it if you shared it with your friends who are also learning Spanish. Send them a link to podcast.duolingo.com. There, you can find a transcript of this story and the rest of the episodes. Subscribe at Apple podcasts or your favorite listening app so you never miss one. With over 200 million members, Duolingo is the world's largest online language learning platform and the most downloaded education app in the world. Duolingo believes that everyone should have access to education of the highest quality for free. Learn more at duolingo.com. I´m Martina Castro, gracias por escuchar.

Credits

This episode includes recordings from J.Zazvurek, Stevious42, dobroide, Halleck, unfa, SoundDog60 and Omar Alvarado under the CC Attribution License from freesound.org, and was produced by Adonde Media.

Author: Nicolás Barreto
Script Editor: Catalina May
Sound Designer: Isabel Vázquez
Mixing & Mastering Engineer: Martín Cruz Farga
Executive Producer/Editor: Martina Castro