Mar 062012

One of the many reasons I was attracted to Ambassador Theater’s Hopa Tropa: Kukerica was  the   opportunity to connect and create with international artists. I love to travel and to  experience other cultures. Now that I’m in full-fledged rehearsal mode with the Hopa  Tropa cast, I’m truly  enjoying and appreciating the connection I’m feeling with Bulgaria. The  first time that we had the  full cast together, Lilia immersed us in information. We looked at  pictures, read books, and  listened to music, while the other Bulgarian cast members shared their  own perspectives to give  us further insight into their country. Now, when I go to rehearsals, I  like to imagine I’m in Bulgaria, surrounded by the music, the language and the people.  When we rehearse at Lilia’s home, my imagination doesn’t have to work very hard, due to her generous hospitality and the revolving door of Bulgarian guests and friends that are always in her home. From day one, this has been a tremendously satisfying intercultural experience.

Traditions - At our rehearsal on the first of March, Konstantin brought a red and white woven bracelet for everyone to wear. He and Daria explained a Bulgarian tradition that people will wear something like this on March 1st to celebrate the coming of spring and to bring good fortune into their lives. They cannot remove the bracelet until they see either a stork or a tree in full bloom. Then they will tie the bracelet to a tree to welcome the spring season. I was happy to wear the bracelet and kept my eyes peeled for one of the signs of spring, and only 3 days later found a beautiful tree in full bloom! At rehearsal the next day, I was asked what happened to my bracelet, and I was excited to tell Konstantin and Daria that I had participated in Bulgarian culture by tying it to a blooming tree. However, I was told I acted too soon, and usually they wear their red and white until at least the end of the month. (I blame the mild DC winter.)

Language Barrier – Rehearsals are in English with the occasional slew of Bulgarian. I’m definitely excited about learning the many Bulgarian song lyrics, and thanks to our musical director, Petko, I have a fairly good idea of what I’m singing about. The other night, I had a delightful encounter of mistaken meanings when the language barrier really came into play. I’ll start by saying that Konstantin’s English is actually very impressive considering he has only been learning the language for about the past year. I’ll also say that he is an incredibly affectionate Bulgarian man with little to no physical boundaries, and I never really know what to expect from him. During this particular instance, he saw me having a little laugh to myself about something and he said, “What you smell?” He started to move toward me and given all of previous experiences with Konstantin, I believed he was on his way over to sniff me. I began to step away and must have had a look of great concern on my face, because he started speaking Bulgarian, maybe to get help clarifying what he was asking, and the Bulgarians began to have a good laugh. It was then translated that he meant to ask, “Why are you smiling?” The room erupted in good natured laughter. Thanks to that misunderstanding, Konstantin says that’s one phrase he’ll never forget how to say in English.

At this point in our rehearsal process, I can see the mass of work that lies before us to fine-tune our dances, songs and puppetry. The details that go into each decision for the show are carefully discussed by Lilia and the rest of the production team, and then given to us actors to bring to life. Yes, there is a lot of work to be done, but it is work that I experience great joy in through working with the talented and dedicated team. And although I may feel like I have traveled internationally for a few hours here or there, the truth is, my desire to visitBulgaria is only stoked more and more as we sing, dance, discover and play.

  OTHER “What you smell” WITNESSES –

“Honestly, I had no idea what was going on. Kosio looked confused. Daria looks confused. Amie  looked more confused than anyone. Next thing I know Lilia is laughing, Amie is laughing, all the  Bulgarians are laughing, and Daniel is rolling on the floor.” – Gwen

“He kept asking ‘What you smell’ and after hearing him say it so many times I asked him to tell me  in Bulgarian. When he told me, it was so silly. I think he found it funnier than anyone.” - Daria

“Everyone else was laughing, and I was in tears. I was on the floor holding my sides because I was laughing so hard I couldn’t breathe. Maybe you had to be there to realize just how funny it was, but it made my day. We are professional actors and a lot of time we take rehearsal very, very seriously. But we get along so well that when those moments happen, we all laugh together and forget how to be serious for a while.” – Daniel

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