American Conservatory Theater (A.C.T.) Director of Education Elizabeth Brodersen announced today the successful completion of A.C.T.'s first-year partnership with Downtown Continuation High School-a project-based public school in the San Francisco Unified School District dedicated to serving teenagers who have not experienced success in traditional comprehensive high schools-and their new Acting for Critical Thought project.
As part of the theater's recently launched education initiative, throughout the 2011–12 school year A.C.T offered 70 students from Downtown High School weekly acting classes and instruction in the theater arts, as well as invitations to attend performances of A.C.T.'s entire season of mainstage and conservatory productions. In addition to reading relevant literature, studying social systems of oppression and identity, and using movement to explore the science of the human body, the students learned to write and perform their own monologues and short plays.
With one-on-one training and editorial instruction from volunteers at San Francisco's Mission-based 826 Valencia, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting students ages 6 to 18 with their writing skills, and inspiration and guidance from acclaimed playwright Octavio Solis, the students learned how to make important decisions about the publication of their own and their peers' work, including editing and formatting.
The culmination of this editorial collaboration is the soon-to-be-released book Arrive, Breathe, and Be Still, titled for the phrase the students' lead acting teacher (A.C.T. core Acting Company member Nick Gabriel) gave them to remember how an actor must arrive onstage prepared to perform a scene. The book-currently available for preorder on Amazon.com and available in bookstores nationwide starting in June-is published by 826 Valencia's Young Authors' Book Project, now in its tenth year. At the end of each semester, the monologues and short plays are performed for the Downtown High School community in A.C.T.'s Hastings Studio Theater; the spring semester exhibition will take place on Thursday, May 17, 2012.
Says Brodersen: "Studies have shown, again and again, that engagement in the arts is a powerful and effective means of helping young people develop creativity, critical thinking skills, confidence, and empathy. It's one thing to read that in a report and another thing entirely to watch teenagers step out onto a brightly lit stage for the first time and courageously tell their own intensely personal dramatic stories. It has been an honor to watch these students-most of whom had never experienced live theater before entering this project-discover new passion for learning and respect for themselves and each other while immersing themselves in the study of the theatrical arts. This year's partnership with Downtown High School and 826 Valencia has been a tremendous success and is an exciting model for future educational collaboration."
Says Solis: "When I engaged with these young playwrights in their class at Downtown High School, I realized how much I shared in common with them. I am struck by the bravery of their writing. Taking on the dual themes of resistance and resilience, they have composed a startlingly frank collection of scenes and monologues. There are speeches of lost love and broken hearts healed; testimonials about what it takes to reset your life when your GPA is 0.23; a brother's plea to his younger sibling to change his violent ways; a young woman's monologue about the shame she feels at not being 'Samoan' enough to her peers; and how language creates as many barriers as it does bridges. There are powerful scenes of young people coping with their complicated lives. It is so rare and wonderful when young people from such diverse backgrounds are given this chance to express their unique, and yet universal, experiences onstage. And now to see their work published is an even greater wonder."
Adds Downtown High School teacher Eunice Nuval, founder of the Acting for Critical Thought project: "Working with A.C.T. has been an integral part of our students' success: our students' commitment to the creative process and achieving their academic goals is reinforced by the high expectations of A.C.T. and our project curriculum. We are extremely fortunate to have such an opportunity to work with professionals in our community who are genuinely committed to public education and the arts, as well as the support of the Visual and Performing Arts Department of the San Francisco Unified School District."