In Part 1 of this Stage One Blog Post about the February 2015 Urban Science Academy (USA) theatre showcase, Stage One Teaching Artist, James Milord, introduced his high school theatre students to the foundational elements of improvisation, character development, and storytelling. The first quarter of the 2014-2015 school year ended with a showcase at a school-wide assembly of student-written scenes and monologues based on personal experiences. The second quarter began with an intentional look forward towards Black History Month. Class continued in November with plans to read and stage The Good Negro—Tracey Scott Wilson’s 2009 historical fiction play about the personal lives of civil rights leaders in 1960’s Alabama. Milord performed as a cast member in Company One Theatre’s 2010 production, which provided him with an intimate knowledge of the play’s structure and themes, and the ability to pass on this knowledge to his students.
Occurring simultaneously were the developments surrounding the non-indictment decisions for officers involved in the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases, the #BlackLivesMatter movement, and the hundreds of “Hands up, Don’t Shoot/I Can’t Breathe” demonstrations around the world. Milord decided to open up his classroom for the group to speak to each other about how these events impacted their lives as students, artists, and citizens. Milord was initially struck by how passionate and, at times, polarizing the students’ reactions were to these events. The group was notably transparent about what was happening culturally in the world and around them. Milord attributed the students’ progressive dialogue to the safe, liberating environment of his classroom, which functioned more as a theatre ensemble than a traditional academic class.
The Good Negro was put aside, and the group discussed the meaning behind everyday actions of individuals in the face of adversity. The students’ understanding and appreciation of historic civil rights leaders was strong, but their disconnect with history and frustration with current events contributed to the sentiment that as minority students they were unable to create the change they wanted to see in their communities. Milord guided the students into a discussion about the qualities of leadership that are required to create change. What made the Black Civil Rights leaders successful? What held them back? What faults or frailties did they overcome? What choices did they make that we perceive as the right or wrong decisions?
The class narrowed their focus and began research on four central figures of the 1960’s Civil Rights Movement: Dr. Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, the Black Panther Party, and Bayard Rustin. Students would utilize their collective artistic license to build a scene about each figure, based on a combination of factual evidence and their own fictional embellishments, in order create a portrait of well-developed characters and dramatic narrative arc. Milord encouraged his students to collect research from a diversity of resources, including teachers, family, and community members who could share their personal stories and connections with historical events. After compiling their list of facts and their checking sources, the USA students began to dig deeper, take on the role of these historic figures, and improvise scenes around their personal and public lives.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Black Panther Party
In February 2015 a group of students at West Roxbury’s Urban Science Academy (USA) presented a showcase of student-written scenes depicting significant moments in the lives of prominent figures from the American Civil Rights Movement. This kind of production might not be unusual for an American urban high school in February, typically celebrated as Black History Month by schools, institutions, and communities across the country. What is notable about the students’ work at USA is their path to processing, creating, and writing about these events amidst the growing momentum of political and social justice movements, like #BlackLivesMatter, in response to unchecked police brutality and institutionalized racism. Many of the protests and demonstrations that occurred around the world in response to the events in Ferguson and Staten Island were lead by student groups who demanded change from the adult leaders in their community. The presentation at Urban Science Academy illustrates a positive application of theatre arts in a school environment, created by students to address the issues that impact their community.
Theatre students at USA participate in Company One Theatre’s Stage One: In-School program (S1: In-School), which brings theatre education residences to the Boston Public Schools in order to foster young performers’ personal growth and theatrical development. In the 2014 Fall Semester, S1: In-School was coordinating residencies with over 300 elementary, middle, and high school students in six public schools. USA—a high school of roughly 470 students—was founded in 2005 with a focus on science and technology and was designed to prepare students to excel in college and their careers.
James Milord, one of S1: In-School’s Teaching Artists, had instructed theatre through S1: In-SChool at the USA during the previous 2013-2014 school year, so his knowledge of the school community and academic culture was stronger than that of a first-year teaching artist or guest instructor. The Fall 2014 theatre class was relatively small, with just eight regularly attending students, and was fairly representative of the school’s overall racial and ethnic makeup—over 90% of students identify as African American, Hispanic, Asian, Multi-Racial, or Native American.
Milord’s lessons plans for the first quarter at USA were structured around the curriculum goals adopted by all In-School Teaching Artists, which introduces theatre to students as a means towards liberated artistic expression, self-confidence, and cultural awareness. For Milord, the first few weeks of working with a new group are essential for establishing the classroom as a setting for meaningful ensemble work and allowing students to build a strong rapport based on trust and creative self-expression. After introducing the foundations of improvisation, character development, and scene creation, the first quarter for Milord’s students ended in November with a showcase of scenes and monologues, based on personal experiences and narratives. Sharing their work with the school—the first time performing for many of S1: In-School students—proved to be a unifying and positive experience for the entire group.
The Education Staff at Company One Theatre is pleased to share our SHOCKHEADED PETER Curricular Connections Packet. This resource is ideal for both students and teachers who want to read more about the world and history of the play, the collaborating artists, and the stories behind script. Each packet contains experimental and interactive lesson plans that address current state curriculum frameworks in theatre production, language arts, and social studies. We hope this packet leads to memorable experiences and conversations for your classroom, either before or after your visit to see SHOCKHEADED PETER! Download your FREE copy:
SHOCKHEADED PETER Curricular Connections Packet – March 2015
A former Company One Production Apprentice, a Josiah Quincy School senior student, and my close friend, Kemal Beyaztas, has recently received the Theatre Guild Award from The Massachusetts High School Drama Festival this past Saturday. I would like to congratulate him on this accomplishment and let him know that he really is a great actor and director. He took on three roles for this particular event. I must say, I have seen him act and this guy is no joke. I’m proud of you Kemal! After receiving this award, he posts: “The Massachusetts High School Drama Festival awarded me with the Theater Guild Award! I am very honored and truly humble to receive this and I’m very grateful to the cast and crew of The Passengers for all their hard work, dedication, and commitment towards theater! Also congrats to all the other schools that competed in this tournament!”
– Brieana Valdez, Company One Theatre Production Apprentice