- Katie Fitzgerald, Founder of Teatro Catalina
Who Tells Your Story: Regina
Even if you're little, you can do a lot,
you mustn't let a little thing like, 'little' stop you!
- Matilda The Musical
It's February 6th, 2017, the first day of the new school year here in Nicaragua. Regina is starting her first day of 5th grade and she is looking forward to meeting her new teacher, learning more about science (her favorite subject) and "having something to do again". She wakes up with the sun and waits patiently as her mom heats up 'gallo pinto' (rice and beans) and a tortilla for breakfast. She puts on her uniform, which was carefully ironed the night before, grabs her new backpack and heads off down the dirt road to school.
Coming from a rural community in a developing country, Regina is one of the fortunate ones, because on this same day, all around the world, there are over 32 million primary-aged girls (just like Regina) who are not in school (UNESCO Institute of Statistics). 32 million girls who have been denied the fundamental right of education due to circumstances outside of their control; poverty, tradition, war, lack of resources, etc.
When I saw Matilda The Musical on Broadway two years ago, I was absolutely blown away. Not only by the unbelievably talented cast and the stellar sets and costumes but by the incredible message of empowerment that the show delivers. Matilda is a little girl that has all the odds stacked against her. She has a passion for reading and learning but is surrounded by adults that seek to stifle and belittle her intelligence. Instead of sitting back and cowering as the people around her try to deny her of her dreams, Matilda decides to take ahold of her own future. She decides to write her own story.
"Nobody else is gonna put it right for me, nobody but me is gonna change my story."
When I think about Matilda, I think about all the little girls I have met in Villa Catalina. In so many ways, their stories are alike. The odds are stacked high. Growing up in rural Nicaragua, sets girls up at a disadvantage right from the get-go, placing circumstantial obstacles and barriers directly in their paths. And while I have yet to meet parents that are malicious like Matilda's, I see mothers and fathers that struggle with how to encourage their kids simply because they were never encouraged in their own lives. It's a cycle and it's a hard one to break. But it's not impossible.
Again, I am mesmerized by the way that our photographer, Edgard Buenas, brought this photo to life. When I look at this photo, I immediately see Matilda but I also see Nicaragua, and that's exactly the vision we are trying to capture in this series. I love how the framing and lighting of this photo cause your eyes to instantly focus on Matilda (Regina), but then as your eyes begin to adjust, you start to see all the other intricate details.
There are three key elements to this photo that I really hope people take notice of. First of all, the setting. There wasn't a question in my mind that we would stage this photo anywhere other than a classroom in Villa Catalina. The classroom in Matilda is such a memorable part of the world that the set designers created. The oversized (not to mention, magical) chalk board and the desks that double as dance floors are unforgettable facets of the show.
The other reason the classroom setting was so crucial was the hope that, as people looked at this photo, they could get a glimpse of what a classroom is like in rural Nicaragua. This photo was taken almost two weeks after school began and we didn't change anything as we entered the classroom besides the layout of the desks. Take note that there is nothing on the walls, no fun charts or posters for the kids to look at, none of the kids' artwork is hung on the walls. Do you see that stack of books on the teacher's desk? Those are the only textbooks in the classroom. Resources are limited so you can imagine the challenge that exists for kids to stay motivated and engaged when it comes to their education.
The next element is Regina's school uniform: a white collared shirt, knee-length blue skirt, tall white socks and black shoes. This is the uniform that every girl in Nicaragua (who can afford it) will wear from the day they enter preschool all the way until they graduate high school. My hope is that when a young girl from Nicaragua sees this photo, she can see herself in it, that she can picture herself as Matilda: strong, powerful and courageous.
The last element is, of course, the Matilda pose. This pose is iconic...that's all there is to it. Try doing the pose yourself and tell me it doesn't make you feel as if you can conquer the world!
While Matilda draws much strength simply from within her own self, there is one other essential component to her triumphant story: Ms. Honey. Ms. Honey provides Matilda with the two things that she needs most in order to succeed: love and encouragement. If there's one thing that my time in Nicaragua has taught me, it's that love and encouragement can help change the direction of a child's life.
As I reflect on Matilda and on the things we are striving to accomplish as an organization, my hope is that we (Teatro Catalina) can be the "Ms. Honey" in the lives of young girls here in Nicaragua, that we can help foster a lifelong love of learning and education using theatre and the arts as a way to introduce life skills that will encourage empowerment and success. Our greatest hope is that these girls understand that they not only have the power to dream but also the right to pursue and accomplish their dreams.
Photo cred: Edgard Buenas
Go behind-the-scenes of our Matilda-inspired photo!