This school year English teacher Pamela Smith decided to invite me into her classes to create original theatre on the topic of discrimination. Ms. Smith’s classes are comprised of diverse young people, with many having recently arrived from war torn countries and traumatized communities. We both decided to tread gently with this project to ensure that we didn’t force anyone to broach topics which would increase their pain or PTSD. At the same time, we both understood writing and theatre to be safe mediums in which to express one’s experiences, lessons and yes – pain.
I walked into the grade 10 classes looking at all of the beautiful faces and presented an outline of the Voices into Acting project – where we would use the free, online resource Voices into Action to research historical oppression, war, genocide, hatred, discrimination and finally – heroism in the face of harowing conflict. When I told both classes about how we were going to write our own scripts about topics we felt passionate about and were then going to perform them for their school, they shook their heads. A few were drama kids, so they were excited but the remainder didn’t want to put themselves through the discomfort. As a former Drama teacher I knew that most of them would perform and was certain that they would be incredibly proud of themselves for doing so.
Over the next few months we broached topics of humanity’s darkest side in those classes and, consequently, we got fired up. As the future generation, being informed about our tainted history, it was dawning on them that it was up to their generation to help build a better future. So, they found their voices. In groups, they finalized scripts, spoken words and then learned how to act. I directed a clean, clear opening tableaux for both classes and rehearsed it daily (well, Ms. Smith did it daily – I worked with them once a week). My idea was that if they felt prepared in their opening number they’d find their stride for their own scenes.
Finally, after the usual jitters and no shows (it always happens in high school), it was performance day. The theatre was packed, our sound and lighting were finally working and we were off – lights up and there they all were, acting their hearts out. The scripts were about gender inequities, refugees, discriminating against the disabled, greed, racism and bullying. As each class delivered their own words, on issues of social justice, with passion – the audience was moved. There really is nothing as beautiful as watching young people smile with pride as they bow to an appreciative audience.
After the shows we had celebratory pizza and the relief was palpable. Yet, there was also a shift in them – they were energized. The arts really have the power to bring communities together in unique and memorable ways. As we came to the end of our time together, I had each student express what their takeaways were from Voices into Acting and their words were honest, touching and inspiring. Many said that they didn’t think that they could act but that now that they have they might take drama. Others said that some of the issues really made them think and that they were different, to a degree, and would be more conscious of others and issues of social justice. All of them were grateful for having pushed themselves to complete this work of art, as a community.
So, it is with great pride that we celebrate our inaugural performances for Voices into Acting and are very thankful to Ms. Smith and her classes for stepping up, overcoming their stage fright and putting their voices into action!