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Maria Alejandra Rivas (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)

Six to Remember: Maria Alejandra Rivas

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By Kathleen Sullivan | Chronicle Staff
Published: May 12, 2010
Maria Alejandra Riva

Quito, Ecuador

Major: Theater and communication

Notable activities: Founding member, Secretary, President, BC chapter of "Artists Striving to End Poverty" (ASTEP); Advanced Study Grant recipient; honoree, 2009 Undergraduate Research Symposium; vocalist, Liturgy Arts Group; director, "Isn't it Romantic," Robsham Theater spring 2010 production.

Post-graduation plans: Run a theater camp this summer; learn about television and radio production and eventually return to Ecuador to work in the communications field.

Overview: Rivas believes in the power of theater and arts to create social change and to offer children hope and the encouragement to dream for greater things for themselves. With the aid of a BC Advanced Study Grant, Rivas developed and ran "Theater of Hope," a summer camp for children ages 5 to 15 from impoverished areas around Quito, Ecuador. Through the BC Chapter of ASTEP, Rivas volunteered weekly at an afterschool programs in Roxbury where she worked with children on dance, improvisation and theater games. Her artistic vision took center stage at Robsham Theater as director for "Isn't it Romantic," as well as set design for "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" and "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee," and stage management for "Uncle Vanya."

Q:What has been your best experience at BC?
Directing "Isn't it Romantic" was the experience of a lifetime. I loved it. Even though it was a daunting task, the payoff was great. I'm really proud of that. Also, my work with kids through ASTEP and the "Theater of Hope" has shown me the power of theater to create hope and allow children to dream. It's great to see a kid who had been closed down be given a prop and then come alive. Some of the children at the theater camp who were illiterate came up to me afterwards and said they wanted to learn to read and write.

Q:Talk about the "Theater of Hope" project.
I got the idea for the camp after seeing an interview with an Ecuadoran girl who said she dreamed of being a maid. I thought a camp would be something to create hope and allow children to dream. I want them to dream bigger, dream for greater things.  With the help of my advisor, Crystal Tiala, I won an Advanced Study Grant from BC to create and manage "Theater of Hope," a two-month camp I conducted during the summer of 2008. The campers did improvisation and ultimately created their own original play where they had to work together to create a script and characters and design the set. The children performed the play for parents and the public at the end of the camp.

Although some of the children were illiterate, which made things challenging, they helped out one another. One of the messages that came from the camp is that theater is collaborative and works only when everyone works together.

Q:Who have been the most important people on campus to you?
I couldn't have gone through these four years without [Associate Professor of Theater] Crystal Tiala. She's a phenomenal individual. She has a gift of knowing your potential and pushing you to reach it. I've been so inspired by her set designs. Her Creating Social Activist Images class taught me that you can use art to make a difference. I consider her a great friend and an amazing source of support. [Theater Associate Professor] Stuart Hecht is a great director and phenomenal teacher. I'm so thankful to him. And from LAG, [Campus Minister for Liturgical Arts] Meyer Chambers, [Associate Campus Minister] JoJo David and [grad student] Meg Felice are incredible people. They have shown me that worshipping God through song is fun.

Q:How has BC made a difference in your life?
I believe there is no place that would have been better for me. I'll be so proud to call this place my alma mater. It has given me the skills and tools academically and taught me how to use my craft to create change.

Q:What will you miss most about BC?
I will miss my LAG family and my friends and professors in the Theater Department. I will miss being around people who care and want to make a difference, which is what BC is all about. I'll also miss this beautiful campus and the squirrels, chipmunks and bunnies - you don't see them in Ecuador!

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