At Green Dot Public Schools, we believe that performing arts education provides an outlet for young voices, and challenges students’ perceptions about themselves and the world they live in. This semester, drama students at Ánimo Leadership Charter High School were chosen by the Center Theatre Group to participate in an August Wilson residency, created to advance students’ development as scholars and artists. Wilson was a Pulitzer Prize winning playwright, whose work included Fences, which was adapted for the screen by Denzel Washington and nominated for four Academy Awards this year. Now students will have the opportunity to bring the piece to life in their drama classroom. The Center Theatre Group is a non-profit theater company that has used the arts to explore diversity on stage for the last 50 years. They collaborate with California schools to bring theater into the classroom in innovative ways. English teacher Craig Robinson applied for the residency so Ánimo Leadership students would have a relationship with the theater.
Once Ánimo Leadership became one of four schools were selected for the residency, the Center Theatre Group sent teaching artist Nigel to work with Ánimo Leadership students on curriculum based on Wilson’s work. Through an exploration of Wilson’s work students are now mastering new critical thinking and performance skills, gaining confidence, and learning about the world through a perspective they are less familiar with.
Wilson’s work remains a significant voice in modern American theater, and is often celebrated for its depiction of the African American experience. “When students of color read his work it kind of opens up their eyes and helps them lean in a little bit,” said Porter. “It can really produce a shared experience that only August Wilson can create.”
Finding Their Own Voice
For many of Robinson’s students, the drama class is their first experience with contemporary theater, one that has pushed some out of their comfort zones.
At first, sophomore Angela Ramirez was not comfortable with the idea of performing on a stage, but has come to enjoy her experience in the drama class: “Drama has helped me with public speaking,” said Ramirez. She found that many of Porter’s drama exercises have even been helpful outside the classroom, “It’s taught me how to speak confidently, work with others, and has helped me in my other classes.”
The culminating experience of the residency will find the drama students drawing on the teachings of both English teacher Robinson and resident artist Porter to perform a monologue from one of Wilson’s plays. To prepare them for the experience, students had the opportunity to attend the August Wilson Monologue Competition, where students worked with other schools and participated in workshops to hone their storytelling skills.
Thanks to this incredible opportunity from The Center Theatre Group, and the legacy of Wilson’s work, students are pushing the boundaries of what they may have thought possible. “There are students who may be deathly afraid to read an original idea in front of everybody,” said Robinson.
“By the end of the year I know they will be fearlessly reading their monologues and sharing creative works.”