A Day at the Dorchester Boys and Girls Club

On Saturday January 16th, the Company One Apprentices ventured into the Dorchester Boys and Girls Club and hosted an eye-catching, political and socially innovative event that focused on the groundbreaking news that covered the year 2015.

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The foundation of the event was the play AN OCTOROON by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, which will be Company One’s 2nd play of its 17th season. The play has many themes such as racism, love triangles, money, melodrama, and slavery. The characters that the Apprentices connected with most were two slaves: Minnie, an optimistic straightforward and fearsome dreamer, and Dido, her more reserved emotional and overly cautious best friend. The event was centered on the contemporary issues people are facing and how it is related to the social issues of the 1850s that Minnie and Dido lived in.

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Our participants were young members of the Boys and Girls Club, who ranged between the ages of 10 to 16. The event began with introductions from the Apprentices, Company One staff members from the Education and Dramaturgy departments, and the youth attendants.

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We then projected onto the wall a video of the last scene from the play featuring Minnie and Dido, followed by a witty commentary reaction clip featuring the Apprentices. This was then followed by another reaction video from Minnie and Dido, which prompted the youth members to creatively reflect on the year 2015. Each person was given a list of notable topics from 2015 to discuss – this list, which the Apprentices put together, included #NetflixandChill, Donald Trump, ISIS, Bill Cosby, Planned Parenthood, #BlackLivesMatter, and more.

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The discussion was very productive, encouraging, and the youth members had many valid points about the many topics. They each had to pick a topic and comment on that topic through any creative medium they chose. This could include a skit, rap, scene, poem, short story, letter, drawing, design, collage, etc. on how they felt about the topic.

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Youth members chose to design shirts, write poems and short stories, and create a graphic design on the computer. They were incredibly expressive, articulate and passionate about the topics they chose. Their work was innovative and all were impressed by the creativity in the room. Everyone came together to share out what they did and were supportive while their peers were expressing themselves. The act of reflecting on what has happened is a skill everyone, regardless of age or gender, has the capability to do. It was a dynamic and creatively rich event that the Apprentices will never forget!

 

EJ Bonilla Inspires Stage One and Boston Arts Academy Students

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Company One (C1) recently had the pleasure of hosting film and television actor, EJ Bonilla, best known for his work on the independent films Four and The House that Jack Built, and who is currently featured in A&E’s Unforgettable. EJ visited Young Achievers Academy (YA) in Mattapan, where C1 facilitates a yearlong residency and touches the lives of more than one hundred students per week with the transformative power of theatre.

Alexandria King, C1 Teaching Artist at Young Achievers, said, “EJ was extremely generous with his time and wisdom. EJ is a true artist and educator.” The day began at YA with an assembly of eager students waiting to meet the rising actor. Opening with a performance of Shakespeare’s famous Hamlet speech, EJ aligned the concept of ‘to be or not to be’ with his personal story of pursuing his dreams.

EJ Bonilla Visit 3EJ grew up in Brooklyn, NY, where the distractions and circumstances of living in a struggling neighborhood often presented roadblocks in his life. It was because of teachers that recognized his unique talents (even landing him a scholarship to ballet school), and a family that rallied around him, that EJ was able to realize his personal mission as an artist and commit to achieving his goals.

Ms. King said the most important lesson EJ wanted students to learn is that, if you commit yourself 100% to what you love, take advantages of the opportunities that come your way as a young person, and resist poor choices, then doors will open for you. EJ shared with students that he was a very shy kid, even pretending to sleep at the lunch table to avoid his peers. It was theatre that enabled him to build confidence and become the dynamic performer that he is today.

Not only did EJ impart sage advice to the aspiring actors of YA, but he also worked closely with students on developing characters and rehearsing scene work from Romeo and Juliet. EJ visited Boston Arts Academy the following day, and collaborated with students from the beginning of the school day until the end of evening rehearsal.


EJ will return in January 2016 to reconnect with YA students and hopefully meet more of the young people that benefit from C1 theatre residencies in Boston Public Schools. On behalf of Company One Theatre, we would like to extend our deepest thanks to EJ Bonilla for the inspirational visit with our students and empowering them to make good choices and pursue their dreams. We would also like to thank Ms. King for inviting EJ into the C1 family.
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Final Meeting for 2014-2015 Teaching Artists

Stage One Teaching Artists take a selfie with their program director.

Stage One Teaching Artists take an end-of-year selfie with their program director.

The Teaching Artists at Company One are the driving force behind our Stage One In-School teaching residencies. You may recognize them from appearances in C1 shows like SHOCKHEADED PETER, DISPLACED HINDU GODS TRILOGY, SPLENDOR, and HOW WE GOT ON, but they’ve spent the entire school year representing C1 and bringing their skills, talent, and artistic leadership to elementary, middle, and high school students all over Boston. Stage One theatre classes cover units like improvisation, playwriting, and social justice, and provide students with the foundational experience of working towards common artistic goals with their peers and using theatre as a tool to explore, represent, and articulate the values of their community. At our last program meeting, the Education staff and Teaching Artists shared some of their most memorable in-school moments and discussed their end-of-year plans for Stage One students. Keep an eye out for future posts of student work, feedback about their experience, and photos from final performances and showcases.

Building Theatrical, Student-Driven Responses to National Events: Part 2

USA Students - Stage One Class 3In 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.

BlackLivesMatter BostonOccurring 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.

USA Students - Stage One Class 1The 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?

USA Students - Stage One Class 2The 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.

Malcolm X

Malcolm X

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Bayard Rustin

Bayard Rustin

Stage One Blog Post - Black Panther

Black Panther Party

 

 

Building Theatrical, Student-Driven Responses to National Events: Part 1

Milord with Stage One Students at USA

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.

Urban Science AcademyTheatre 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.

Great Start to a New School Year for Stage One: In-School Theatre Students

It’s the end of the First Quarter for Boston Public Schools and the Stage One: In-School Students have accomplished a lot: Some classes have begun writing their own original work, others have been working on improvising scenes and moving on stage as an ensemble. The Students at Another Course to College, Jeremiah E. Burke High School, and Urban Science Academy had the opportunity in October to present their work to peers, families, and the school community. As part of the curriculum at each school, sharing the work with audiences is an important step that deepens students’ skills in theatre arts and places greater value on their own lived experiences.

Another Course to College - October 2015 Showcase

Students at Another Course to College take a bow during their First Quarter Showcase.