Know Your Neighbor: Meet the children of the revolving 'Los Pastores' cast

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Each year for the past 36 years, a group of actors and musicians from Taos, Española and San Luis, Colorado, meet to practice, perform and travel for presentation of "Los Pastores" Christmas drama. Cast members vary from year to year and so do some of their individual roles. Veterans oftentimes graduate to more advanced roles, and sometimes cast members' situations change. Children often grow up as cast members.

Long-time cast member Simon Orona passed away recently, so this year the cast plans to dedicate the Taos performance to him. It is scheduled for Saturday (Dec. 23) at 7 p.m. at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church,

"Los Pastores" depicts the shepherds' search for the Christ child. It was originally performed at a time when few people could read or write, and viewing morality performances enabled people to learn about their faith. As the shepherds advance in their search, they experience several scenarios that illustrate their human strengths and weaknesses or good versus evil.

Written in Spanish, the play is also understandable to those who don't understand the language. Body language, facial expressions and voice inflection help the audience grasp the on-stage action.

In the past, this column featured various cast members. This year, four children who joined the cast receive publicity honors; Alondra Avelar, Esmerelda Avelar, Juan Muñoz and Madelyn Muñoz.

Alondra Avelar is an 11-year-old fifth grader at Ranchos Elementary School. "My teacher is Miss Serna, and my favorite subject is reading," she said, during a break for the "Taste of Christmas" performance at the Taos Community Auditorium. When Alondra is not in school, she enjoys playing games on her tablet, especially "Subway Surfers." Her parents Alberto (Beto) and Rosa Avelar, owned Marisco's Restaurant in Ranchos de Taos, so the youngster has grown up with an enjoyment of good food. At home she most enjoys chicken Alfredo, she said.

Esmerelda Avelar, Alondra's younger sister, is 9 years old and attends Ranchos Elementary School. Her third-grade teacher is Melissa Quintana, and Esmeralda's favorite subject in school is math. During a break from the same production, she shared some of her favorite items: "I play tag with friends when I'm not in school. My favorite food is pizza," said Esmerelda.

Juan Muñoz, like Esmerelda, attends Melissa Quintana's third-grade class at Ranchos Elementary. The 9-year-old is the son of Marisol Tena and Pablo Muñoz. Both students also help other youngsters with their Spanish lessons in the afternoon. "I really like math and doing homework," said Juan. When not in school, Juan enjoys racing with his friend, Ariana. He said the race usually results in a tie. Juan enjoys eating at fancy restaurants and favors the pepperoni pizza at Mondo Italiano. Blue is his favorite color.

Juan's older sister, Madeline, is 11 years old. She attends Michelle Chacon's fourth-grade class at Ranchos Elementary. Madeline studies math and reading. Out-of-school activities include go-karting, jumping on the trampoline and playing football with relatives, Angel and Alfredo Rodriguez. "My favorite food is spaghetti, and my favorite restaurant is El Taoseño," said Madeline.

Each year, many children join the cast, and this column features them. The four youngsters listed above are the newest additions.

"Any person wishing to join 'Los Pastores' may do so," said Arsenio Córdova, co-director. Cast members may join at any age, and they may also advance to larger roles. For instance, two boys who began their "Los Pastores" involvement playing baby Jesus, have since been cast in other roles. One youngster portraying the Christ child still remains in the cast, and subsequent roles increase the little ones' presence and number of lines. This year, baby Jesus is portrayed in his debut by Giancarlo Montaño, the brother of former baby Jesus, Angel Rodriguez. Oftentimes, several members of an extended family perform in "Los Pastores."

"Los Pastores" remains the most musical of all the religious dramas. In recent decades, more contemporary music formed a portion of the play, according to co-director Tessa Córdova.

Sangre de Cristo Liturgies sponsors the performance. The organization, founded in 1981, is devoted to the preservation of the culture and traditions of Northern New Mexico and southern Colorado. Only two acting companies from Belen and Taos perform the play annually. The local group has performed for more than three decades with the cast rotating depending on life's other demands, such as attending college.

The four youngsters featured are part of a 20-member cast. Besides the Taos performance at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, the public is invited to a second performance Thursday, (Dec. 28), 7 p.m. at Sangre de Cristo Parish in San Luis, Colorado.

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