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Teaching Artist and Prop Master Extraordinaire Merrianne Nedreberg

The Boyle Heights Chronicles

#71

Merrianne Nedreberg helps a community member create a lantern at a 2016 workshop at The Shop.

We offer all of our free community workshops in and around The Shop, Center Theatre Group’s costume and prop shop in Boyle Heights, in Spanish and English. At any given workshop we host, at least three quarters of the participants are Spanish-only speakers, and almost everyone is bilingual.

Associate Prop Master Merrianne Nedreberg has taught Block Painting, Life Casting, Lantern Making, Furniture Building, and Furniture Painting and Upholstery workshops over the past three years at The Shop. These free workshops are really fun because we have created an environment where participants feel comfortable taking risks, trying something new, and experimenting with their art-making. That—and we don’t let the language barrier get in the way of us laughing together. Merrianne only speaks English, so I translate on the spot while she teaches groups of up to 20 people of all ages.

For me, translating is a necessary bridge between Center Theatre Group and the community. I see my mom and my aunts in many of the ladies at our workshops. As child of Spanish-only speakers, I am used to being the translator, so when I translate, I do so as if I were doing it for family. I not only translate words but help translate content as a surrogate teacher at times. But I wanted to know what it feels like for Merrianne, so I asked her a few questions about her experience with the translating process in advance of our last workshops of the year.

Estela Garcia:
What is your experience as a teacher who only speaks English teaching a Spanish-speaking group?
Merrianne Nedreberg:
So far my experiences have been good, but that is massively thanks to having you there to help. It's always a little scary that the message or steps of the project might not translate. But the interesting thing about creating is that it’s mostly visual anyways.
What are the challenges of having someone translate while you teach?
The biggest challenge is pace—having to pause and to remember to make them natural pauses [so that you can translate what I’ve just said]. It's also hard when we get more into the hands-on part of the workshops, and I'm asked a question and you aren't right there. Mostly the other class members help, or I do a visual aid which translates.
What are some of the successes?
I think each class has been a success. We are obviously getting the message across to everyone.
What were your first thoughts about having a translator?
Oh thank God, ’cause I don't know how to speak Spanish, and I want everyone to be able to easily learn.
I translate to the whole room when we work together, but with other folks I’ve translated just to those who need it. Would you be interested in experimenting at all?
It really makes me feel better just having you next to me. The truth is I can't easily communicate with most of the class, and having you who can right there keeps me involved with the entire class.
About Merrianne
Merrianne Nedreberg grew up in the small town of Eureka, Utah, and has been working in theatre since she was 5. Merrianne graduated high school with her Associate of Science from Utah Valley State College and went on to get a bachelor’s of science in technical theatre at Southern Utah University, where she found her love of working on props. She spent four seasons at the Utah Shakespearean Festival while attending school, starting as a prop intern and working up to prop artisan. She then went on to get her master of fine arts degree in properties design and management from CalArts. She has worked as the Assistant Prop Master at the Old Globe Theatre and propped shows at a variety of theatres and venues including Highways Performance Space, the Getty Villa, and A Noise Within. Merrianne started working for Center Theatre Group in 2008; she is now the Associate Prop Manager, working in all three of Center Theatre Group’s spaces. She specializes in prop carpentry, welding, upholstery, painting, creating puppets, crafts, and paper props.
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