February 2018

A Ti Te Cuento: Come, Let Them Tell You A Story

By: Hailey Quackenbush
Projects Abroad Volunteer

A local oral narration troupe regularly engages audiences with captivating performances, inviting people of all ages into the wonderful world of storytelling and reading. But perhaps the most important aspect of what it means to be a part of this group happens behind the scenes.

It's a Tuesday evening in late February, and the clock is nearing 19:30. I'm in the living room of a cozy apartment in Cochabamba's Queru Queru district, sitting on one of three small red couches that make up the sitting area. A large bookshelf stares welcomingly at me from across the room, and as the minutes tick by, one by one, the members of A Ti Te Cuento make their way through the front door, exchanging brief hugs and kisses on the cheek with one another in greeting. And although I am merely a guest here, I take note of how they each take a moment to include me in these embraces, as well; a telling sign of the intrinsically kind and amiable natures inhabited by this unique group of individuals.

A Ti Te Cuento is an oral narration performing arts troupe; a small collective of storytellers in Cochabamba that performs year-round at different venues all throughout the city. They consist of just six members—three men and three women—though the amount of energy and stage presence they bring into the room is easily enough to supply at least ten or perhaps even twelve people.

The previous week, I had attended their performance "Apuntes de Mujer", which was part of their "Vino al Cuento" series, hosted on the last Friday of every month at the Instituto Cultural Boliviano Aleman (also known as ICBA.) As its title may suggest, this performance consisted solely of the three women in the group (Laura Amador Ledezma, Ana Gabriela Balletta, and Pamela Gutierrez Terceros), each of whom expertly commanded the stage, reciting their stories with captivating confidence and engaging facial expressions. The overall theme of the show was mainly to explore the types of variety that exist amongst women, yet also to explore the types of common, universal experiences and connections that they can share; or, "the human elements that everyone has [within them]", as Pamela puts it.

A Ti Te Cuento performs many different types of shows each month (sometimes adding up to around 20 events throughout the course of one year!), but this type of connective nature seems to be an overarching theme that runs through them all. For, from the moment she steps up on stage and starts narrating her stories, Ana explains, there is simply nothing else like the connection she feels between herself and the audience.

"What I like best about narration," agrees fellow group member Jose Marcelo Revollo Zelaya, "is the connection with the audience—the link that is formed between the audience and myself through the stories."

As I listen to the members of A Ti Te Cuento talk throughout the evening, it becomes clear that this idea of connection is something that is very important to all of them—in many ways. Storytelling, for them, is a way of realizing those connections that exist between themselves and others—those deep, universal connections that exist in us all within the most vulnerable, most profoundly human parts of us.

"What we all have in common," says group member Mauricio Orellana Arias, "is the joy of reading, the joy of stories. This is a link we all share."

This passion that the group shares for stories and reading is one that they also hope to be able to share with their audiences. One of the main aspirations of A Ti Te Cuento is to bring the words on the pages of their stories to life through performance and narration; to not only produce quality entertainment for their audiences to enjoy, but also to generate a genuine interest in reading.

"It's a necessity we have as artists to be able to express ourselves, to be able to say something—to have a message, and to include the audience in the wonderful world of reading," explains group member Diego Montaño.

Sometimes the members of A Ti Te Cuento write their own narrations, and sometimes they perform the work of other authors. They also occasionally participate in narration festivals, some of which have been international, leading some group members to travel to such places as Brazil, Colombia, and Panama. Last year, A Ti Te Cuento even launched an oral narration festival that takes place right here in Cochabamba!

Most of the members of A Ti Te Cuento studied some form of theatre while in school, during which time they were exposed to oral narration as a means of expression and simply fell in love with it. This led many of the members to take classes that focused on oral narration specifically, where they ended up meeting other like-minded students, and thus in 2013, the very beginning of A Ti Te Cuento was formed (though they did not actually give themselves the name of A Ti Te Cuento until later on in 2015.)

Although the members of A Ti Te Cuento are all dedicated regular performers of their craft, they each hold down other types of jobs during the day, ranging from working with children (Ana) to being a chemical engineer (Jose Marcelo). But even with these other engagements and facets to their lives, being a part of A Ti Te Cuento is a serious commitment, and requires significant time and dedication from its members. Aside from constantly rehearsing narration on their own, the members of A Ti Te Cuento come together to meet as a group at least once a week, in order to practice, bounce ideas off one another, or to plan future events.

Not only are these regular meetings important for planning purposes, but they are also important because they provide a time for the members of A Ti Te Cuento to connect with one another. When the group members get together, not only do they create a space where they can share their passions and ideas with one another, but they also create a space of learning, a space of inspiration. As Mauricio puts it: "For me, the experience of being a part of A Ti Te Cuento is a learning experience. We learn from each other. Each one of us has something to give. And it's not only the artist part of us that learns—it's the human part, as well."

Most of all, however, being a part of A Ti Te Cuento is "like being a part of family," offers Jose Marcelo—a sentiment with which all the other members of the group readily nod their heads in agreement. He continues, "You have something to share and give them, and you also get feedback in return. It's a feeling as though you are held by the others; you are not alone."

"What makes it important to belong to the group [are] the relationships and friendships I have with each one of them," adds Ana. "We've been together for a long time, and I have great love and affection for each of them." There is a genuine feeling of sentimentality in the air as she says this, and it is at this juncture that Mauricio decides to lean his head affectionately upon Ana's shoulder—a gesture that quickly garners a few "ooh"s and "aws" in agreement from around the room. To me, this moment illustrates almost perfectly who the people of A Ti Te Cuento are: a kind, caring group, harboring not only a love for stories, but a love for the connection that these stories can foster amongst people. They are a group of people who are passionate about what they do, who are passionate about each other—and who will always be there for one another, offering a shoulder to lean on.

"For me," concludes Pamela, looking around the room at the small group of people she's known now for several years and has thus grown so close to, "being a part of A Ti Te Cuento is three words: growth, family, and dreams. Growth, because every day you learn more. We push each other to be our best and to get better every time. Family, because there is a connection we have because we share a lot. It's a friendship. And dreams, because we share the same dreams, and when one of us has a new dream, we can all work to make it come true. We never walk alone; we always have the group behind us, supporting us. And that is priceless."

For more information about A Ti Te Cuento's upcoming performances, check or follow their Facebook page (Facebook.com/ATiTeCuento), where they post the most up-to-date information for their upcoming events about a week or so in advance. Tickets generally range from the very affordable prices of around B$15 to B$25, depending on the event, but they often offer a slightly discounted price if you call or text ahead of time and make a reservation, as well as slightly discounted prices for children.

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