NORTHLAKE, il. (CBS) – As we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, a high school in the western suburbs with a growing Hispanic population is breaking down language barriers through theater.
As reported by CBS 2’s Marybel González on Thursday night, the school is also using the art form to connect with students’ families.
Whether it’s in the spotlight or behind the scenes, Northlake West Leyden High School students use theater to unite their community.
“My experience with Teatro Leyden has really changed my life,” said Rodolfo Torres, an elder at West Leyden.
Teatro Leyden is a bilingual theater program that puts on shows in English and Spanish in Leyden High School District 212, where over 68 percent of the student population describes themselves as Latinos.
“I am a native Spanish speaker and had to learn English when I was 7,” said Torres. “So I feel like it gives me a chance to demonstrate the different skills that I have.”
Daniela Castro is also a senior from West Leyden. She said that performing in both languages meant contact with her family – who had emigrated from Mexico.
“It just never occurred to me that I could do that,” said Castro. “It’s so nice because my parents really have trouble with English – and it’s so nice that they can understand everything I say.”
The initiative started almost eight years ago.
“We’ve noticed that our Latin and Latin community has been underrated,” said Adrianne Nix, art teacher and fine arts coordinator at West Leyden High School.
The show has gained popularity and several awards, said Nix.
“I think our theater community has grown – it has attracted more faces that wouldn’t normally come to our shows before,” said Nix, “and I feel that representation really matters.”
As some of the students and their families in West Leyden speak mostly only Spanish, director Frank Bavone said, “It means a lot to them.”
Bavone said Teatro Leyden was a way of encouraging them to develop their passion for the arts – regardless of language.
“The concept of theater and the concept of stage directing in general is a story that can be understood in any language,” said Bavone. “You want to be able to tell a story with the action, idea and atmosphere alone – the whole.”
On Thursday, when González visited him, the students were rehearsing to perform Neil Simon’s classic “The Odd Couple”.
“Which is basically like two opposite poles that live together,” said Torres.
In a sense, it also shows how there can be unity in diversity.
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