This year, in the Arts Unite Us After-School Playwriting and Performance Group, we created an immensely powerful show about the need to celebrate diversity. The story and themes were built over 15-weeks together of 2-hour sessions with a 38 member cast at Harding Elementary. Once we had picked a topic and a frame (Time Travel and the Future), the students created short skits, which we used as fodder for our playwriting.
Starting in the bleak future, where it’s the law that your favorite color is GRAY, “The Futuristas” soon find themselves chased by robot enforcers for admitting that they love BLUE. They are saved in the nick of time by “The Time Traveling Triplets,” (played, ironically, NOT by the actual triplets who are in the class), and soon find themselves traveling through time (and space?) to learn their forgotten history. Dinosaurs teach them lessons of bio-diversity, with the Spirits of the Really Past reminding The Futuristas “YOUR survival depends on YOUR diversity.” Then they are swept into an era of Social Justice Heroes, from Martin Luther King Jr. to Rosa Parks to Audre Lorde to I. King Jordan (the first deaf president of Gallaudet University). For the I. King Jordan piece, we had Paul, our interpreter, work with a hearing student who has a passion for American Sign Language. For her piece, Paul switched from interpreting in ASL to speaking out loud, and it was a joy to see some of the non-hearing kids in the front row of the audience light up as the actors began to speak their language. “DEAF PRESIDENT NOW!”
In the end, by celebrating diversity, the Futuristas were able to get people in the Present to commit to getting off their phones and connecting with each other in more direct ways. When they finally returned to the future, April 1st (the day of our show) had become an international “Diversity Day!”
The process was one of community building and personal growth. Many students in the class do not see themselves as actors or performers, but stepped up in big ways and let their voices be loud and proud. After each performance, we had a “Talk-Back” session with the audience, inviting first the audience to give appreciations and then speak to what they learned from the show. The actors then responded with how it felt to hear their work celebrated and it was clear that they all felt deeply proud of themselves for the work they had done.
We are excited to keep this program going, as it serves so many purposes from artistic expression to social-emotional skill building to team work. I’m so proud of the Harding kids and wish them all a fabulous summer!
Thank you to the Thomas J Long Foundation and the Green Foundation for their continued support that makes this program possible!
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