'Hola Oliver' helps bridge cultures
The Arizona Republic
May. 21, 2006

Doug Carroll

A chance meeting years ago between a real estate agent who spoke little Spanish and a clown who spoke no English stands to benefit schoolchildren on both sides of a cultural divide.

The clown, Oliver, made such an impression on Jack Singer at a West Valley swap meet that Singer and his partners envision a half-hour television show, Hola Oliver, targeted at very young children.

The show's pilot was tested last week at Emerson Elementary School in Mesa.
Kindergartners and first-graders watched and laughed as Oliver, a mime aided by voice-over narration, introduced a half-dozen words in both English and Spanish while going about his morning routine, playing soccer and visiting Sedona. The goal is "to bridge the (cultural) gap at an early age," said Singer, of Ahwatukee Foothills, who teamed with producer Rosalia Ibarrola and writer-director Monica Samuels on the project.

"It will bring the Hispanic community into learning English and our culture.
And at the same time, it will teach American kids some Spanish."

The show would be produced in English and Spanish versions. In wider distribution, perhaps via a Spanish-language TV network, Hola Oliver is seen by Singer as a bilingual Barney and Friends.

Oliver, a former Mexico City street performer who studied the techniques of French mime Marcel Marceau, is well-known in the Valley's Hispanic community. The show would capitalize on Oliver's all-ages appeal and sense of humor.

"For Hispanic families, Hola Oliver will make the transition to living in a new and different culture much easier," Singer said. "In the Hispanic culture, the family is all-important. A family can watch Hola Oliver and learn the English language and our customs together.

"It's timely, and it's a good thing to do. Anything you can do to speed up the learning is good."

David Luna, director of educational television for the Mesa Public Schools, liked what he saw in the pilot.

"Right now, it has more entertainment than educational value," Luna said.
"The mime is adorable, and the program touches on a number of topics. It certainly would capture young people's interest."

Call (480) 496-0317 or e-mail comahue2@cs.com for details.