Saturday, March 22, 2014

Introducing Central High School Playwrights, 2014 - Representing Excellence in Bridgeport!

It took seven years, but my involvement in the annual ten-minute play festival was resurrected once again via Bridgeport teacher, Shaun Mitchell, and his students at Central High School. Mitchell, a celebrated educator in the Bridgeport City Schools, attended the CWP-Fairfield Invitational Summer Institute the first year I moved to Connecticut. That summer, I introduced the inspiration of the National Ten-Minute Play Festival at Actors Theater in Louisville, Kentucky, and the vision of Victoria Trout, a high school student who established a tradition for my classroom. My kids wrote scripts. They then directed and performed them. And Wola! Page to stage came to fruition just like that and everything in room 301 changed for ever (why would the kids need to write for me when they could begin to write for each other?)

Last fall, I approached Mitchell about doing a one-day workshop with his students and to pitch the idea of a similar festival in Connecticut. A few weeks after I presented, he had several scripts from his class. I picked them up and brought to my graduate students at Fairfield University who offered feedback (as part of their training to become teachers) and I offered my students feedback on their feedback (which also became feedback for the Central kids), and returned the work to Mitchell. Three months later, the first annual Playwright Festival was born in southern Connecticut. Woot Woot.

As I arrived to the auditorium, Principal Anderson was exiting the first showing and telling the crowd, "This was one of the most amazing experiences I've had as a leader in this district. These kids not only performed well, but they wrote the show! I couldn't be prouder." When I drove to the high school I was apprehensive of what I'd see;  I had memories of how the show went down in Kentucky for 11th grade writers and each year's cast. I was afraid my expectations would be biased and unfair.

Yet, from the second the show started, I knew Mr. Mitchell's vision worked - I was beyond impressed to see how far the scripts had come over time and the ways in which the Bridgeport students brought the language alive. I also loved that before each play, Mr. Mitchell brought the playwrights to the stage to discuss their writing processes and thinking about the script they wrote. I should shout out, too, that Attallah Sheppard - DIVA! - performed two spoken word pieces during the show (Ubuntu). She is a tremendous role model for Bridgeport youth and knows for a fact, "You gotta write! A'ight?"

And the following playwrights deserve a special round of applause (and several finger snaps) for their contributions during an incredible evening and for stepping it up as writers and performers in high school - You may not know it, but you just raised the bar for everyone at Central High School and Bridgeport City Schools (the doubters now know what you are capable of and what Mr. Mitchell and I knew all along). This is the new bar! You've raised it! So, here's to the magic of their work:
My Lord, My Ninny, & His Fat Lady by Akili Marshall, '14
Lockdown by Carlos Ramos, '14
Killer Date by Athena Arce, '16
Watching Them Watching Us by Kimlee Heng, '15
The Choice by Mickey Arce, '15
Problems? What Problems? by Deivi Perez, '15
Model Behavior by Juliet Cabezas, '15
Period by Amy Cereza, '14
At a time when politicians point fingers at urban schools, when testing and textbook companies steal every ounce of creativity from teachers and students, and the State of Connecticut continues to see the largest achievement gaps in the nation, I applaud the young people at Central High School. They made a difference last night, and I have to ask myself, "Where was the press?"(Perhaps letters to the editor are the next genre to study - letters that claim, WE, TOO, ARE CONNECTICUT).

And I am also thinking the following.
If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading. Lao Tzu
I am hearing literacy guru Kylene Beers and her line used with principals, teachers, and administrators across the country whenever she hears their complaints about the lack of student motivation and achievement. She replies, "How's that working for ya?" implying what the best teachers know - most of the time a lack of effort is not because of the is due to the banal curriculum forced upon teachers and students that is irrelevant from pervasive testing, culturally insensitive materials, a lack of innovative flexibility, and the complete disrespect for individuality in every school. Pink Floyd captured it years ago.

Not this evening, however...Not in Bridgeport, Connecticut at Central High School.

"I loved writing this," noted one of the playwrights as she introduced her play. "It feels so good to have a chance to impress you and I hope I inspire you to write something for yourself."


No comments:

Post a Comment