La Rana Sabia and the wisdom behind Quito's longest running puppet show

21/Marzo/2012 | 19:06


As they approach their 40th year of entertaining, the Rana Sabia Puppet Group also approaches the status of institution.


On a recent afternoon they hosted the performance of “Este Oficio Si Me Gusta” (This Job I Like), the story of King Tandarapo which, in summary, is the story of a man who needs a job.  To be a king is to be dependent on others – assistants, doctors, carpenters, seamstresses - and is a recipe for illness, whose only cure is found in the fulfillment of work. 


The story of King Tandarapo is just one of forty plays which has kept Fernando Moncayo and his wife, Claudia Monsalve, fulfilled for almost four decades as the producers of the Rana Sabia (Wise Frog), which has grown to become part of the home they have occupied for the past 20 years, near Merced Parish. Here, every Sunday, families have enjoyed puppet shows and homemade lunches in the pastoral setting just 30 minutes from Quito.


As the Rana Sabia has aged, it has grown, becoming more than just a weekly show. The house they occupy – originally built by Moncayo’s grandparents - is also a hostel, library, workshop, and will soon house a museum dedicated to puppetry.   The evolution of their enterprise, though still modest and independent, has forced them to move out and live in a cottage next door. Bedrooms have been replaced by workshops and parlors are home to countless puppets and props.


He and his wife offer tours of their home. Behind the puppet theatre are rooms and corridors filled with puppets of all sizes and the material they use to make them. Included are larger than life-size clown and puppet costumes used for public performances on the streets and in the plazas. 


Moncayo describes their design as the the source of their identity. “These clowns are very Ecuadorian...characterized by their cardboard mask. These are not painted faces. They are panels that cover the entire neck, the entire face.” And as he walks through the house, a veritable maze of corridors, he shows off another giant figure. “This is a woman who you would find in the market…this is the style of our puppets.  It is based on the popular dolls of Latin America – the rag dolls that were made, like in Santo Domingo.” He refers to traditional artisan dolls sold in the plazas of Quito, a tradition that has nearly disappeared.


But unlike the dolls of the “cajoneas,” Rana Sabia hopes to continue and prosper. Upstairs is the workshop of Monsalve, who not only makes the dolls they use in their shows but offers her knowledge gained over 40 years to others through workshops and apprenticeships.


Strewn with materials and dolls the disarray of her studio is the product of continual creation, and investigation. “We do a lot of experimental work,” she says. “I do a lot with recyclable material...generally the creations are mine…they are based on whatever I have.”

In fact everything seems a bit recycled at La Rana Sabia. Nothing really looks new. Though they are constructing a new addition to make space for a museum, the main house appears in need of paint and perhaps a few repairs – some overall TLC. One can easily say it is part of the character of Rana Sabia.


Their growth over four decades, though, is not an expansion as much as maturation and a validation that what they offer goes deeper than mere entertainment. Moncayo says that when he formed La Rana Sabia in the early 70s he was concerned about social trend he observed. 


“At the time I was preoccupied that the experience of the people…that life was not valued. The puppet tells of these things. It tells stories where it re-validates the knowledge of the country farmer, the worker, the marginal people, what they know and their profound cultures. This is why it is called the ‘Rana Sabia’ because it is the wisdom of the popular experience.”


Moncayo and Monsalve’s work has brought them into contact with many people. In January, Cheryl Henson, daughter of The Muppets creator, Jim Henson, paid them a visit. “She was traveling to the Galapagos,” explains Moncayo. “She learned about us and changed her travel plans to spend a day with us here.”


And like the Muppets, whose latest movie has just left theaters, the performances of Rana Sabia are a reflection of the world as seen by its creators. Some of their works are merely fun, while others have a clear message. But all reflect, in some way, the realities of the voices and hands behind the movements.


“There is always a reason when we talk,” says Moncayo. “When you talk you cannot help but express what you think – your way of life, what you believe of the world, although you may speak of the most trivial things - the dumbest things apparently - you are always expressing something profound. We believe that in all works…we are telling what we believe of the world.”


The Rana Sabia performs every Sunday from 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. Cost of admission is $4.   Following the show lunches are available.   The facility has a large yard with play equipment for young kids. For information about upcoming shows check their website, or call 238-5151 or write to [email protected]



Ciudad Quito

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lbrashear - en Diario HOY - Noticias de Ecuador.