It was unbelievable: I couldn't remember the ending to Little Red Riding Hood! "How does this end again?" I whispered desperately to my friend. "Red just runs away right?" "No!" my friend Holly was aghast. "There's a hunter, remember? He comes in and shoots the wolf!" "How old am I?" I mumbled, depressed. Happily, after seeing the Sociedad Educativa de Las Artes' (SEA) charming musical production of La Caperucita Roja (Little Red Riding Hood), I felt like a kid again.
Actually, the one who really made me feel old is SEA's youthful executive and artistic director/education director Manuel A. Morán. "SEA is a hispanic/bilingual arts-in-education organization dedicated to the empowerment and educational advancement of children and young adults," Morán tells me. "I founded the theater back in my native Puerto Rico in 1985 when I was just 15 years old!" he exclaimed exuberantly.
How, I wondered, did a 15-year-old manage to form his own long-term theater company? "I was involved in theater at school, and I just adored it. I wanted to do more," Morán says. "The municipality of my town was looking to create a theater and was holding interviews for an executive director. I decided to apply. Why not? I couldn't believe it, here I was, a kid, going up against adult professionals. Even my own high school theater teacher interviewed for the position! But in the end, it was given to me."
It takes chutzpah to be able to envision yourself as theater director at age 15 but, Morán explains, his whole family participated. "My grandfather had owned a theater, so everyone in my family helped me out, making costumes, doing tech, everything. I held my first open call and 157 people auditioned. I chose 70. I decided to start with a children's production since the play I had in mind used 35 people."
Three months later, the municipality did not come through on all it had promised, but that didn't deter Morán. His family sold chocolates to raise money--anything to keep the theater going--and in the end they prevailed.
Soon Morán went off to the University of Puerto Rico to study theater, but he did not disband SEA. Instead, every summer he would faithfully return home to produce and direct more productions. At this point, SEA had turned its focus towards children's educational theater, with an emphasis on Hispanic culture.
In the early 1990s when Morán moved to New York City to pursue his M.A. in Educational and Musical Theatre at New York University, he brought SEA with him. In 1993 the company established itself on the Lower East Side in the heart of Manhattan's Hispanic community, and in 1996 SEA had its first New York City production. The company has been performing plays both in New York City and Puerto Rico ever since.
In the SEA show I saw, La Caperucita Rosa, Morán is credited as producer, director, co-author of the updated bilingual text, composer, and lyricist--and played the Wolf! But this is by no means a vanity production or company. With over 50 professional affiliated artists able to teach not only in English and Spanish, but French, Italian, German, and Japanese, SEA's educational outreach program is diverse and extensive.