Sharing true experiences and inhabiting the voices of fictional characters, the students of Downtown High School’s Acting for Critical Thought Program have been writing monologues and one-act plays since early September. Their work explores the themes of implicit bias, police brutality, and gentrification, and often touches on how hope and progress can be found in shared communities.
During the semester, the students viewed plays that also covered these themes. An early semester visit to the American Conservatory Theater’s (A.C.T.) opening of Between Riverside and Crazy offered especial inspiration. A.C.T. also facilitated acting classes that the students participated in.
The comprehensive experience of the Acting for Critical Thought program at Downtown High typifies the continuation high school’s project-based learning approach.
The students in the program completed three monologues and a play a piece, sustaining a level of enthusiasm and energy throughout. Works addressed parents, friends, hometowns, even colonialists, but in their range of scope, all tapped into a sense of urgency and to unique expressions of emotion. “I liked writing what I think, what I want, what I feel,” junior Brenda Ortega said. “Even if they were real and not made up, writing took so much imagination.”
The workload was intensive, but with the help of encouraging 826 tutors, the students were able to dive into projects and to discover their fresh, vibrant voices. “I can’t believe that’s me, that I did that,” Tiana Faataui said. “I’ve never read a book from someone that I know. That’s my book, and I can sit back and say, ‘Dang, I did that.’ Or I can show people it. Or, later on in life, I can show my kids that I wrote a book.”
That book, Judged at First Sight, includes many of the students’ pieces, capturing the poignant and gripping voices and stories that each writer crafted throughout the semester.
Accompanying the book’s release, the students brought some of these works to life at the ACT’s Strand Theater on December 11. The exhibition was an enthralling cap to the semester, as students, family, and theater enthusiasts were treated to multimedia performances and a Q&A with the performers. The following is an excerpt from one of the performed pieces, Samantha Pinell’s “You Were There for Me from the Get”:
You understand me in such a mysterious way since we’re the complete opposites of each other . . . You more than anyone know my struggle, but you appreciate the beauty of it . . .
A special thanks to the teachers, Eunice Nuval and Robert Coverdell, the American Conservatory Theater, all of our talented tutors, and, of course, all of the hard-working, passionate, and brave students in the Acting for Critical Thought program.
– Ben Rowen, Educational Programs Intern