On Thursday, November 4th, we took two hundred twenty-eight students to see Ameriville, the new play by performance ensemble UNIVERSES, at Round House Theatre.
Yeah. TWO HUNDRED TWENTY-EIGHT STUDENTS. It took a lot of work to get all of them from school to the theater and back again, but it was totally worth it. Field trips are one of my favorite things to do at YPT. It’s always an eye-opening experience for students to see professional theater, but the best part is that it creates renewed investment in their own plays.
The two hundred twenty-eight students are eleventh graders at Bell Multicultural High School. They’re right in the middle of our In-School Playwriting Program, in fact the second drafts of their plays were due just one week after the trip. Bell is one of our favorite schools – we’ve been there for fifteen years, since the beginning of YPT.
Ameriville promised to be a perfect fit for our Bell students. The play fuses jazz, Gospel and hip-hop with storytelling. At Bell, we’ve found that many of our students feel a strong connection to music. Over the years, when teaching artists have met with students who were struggling with their plays, we’ve often asked them to think about sound design. It’s almost foolproof – music provides a gateway into all kinds of artistic expression. Students identify a song that matters to them, and suddenly they realize that they do have something they want to say. So, yeah, a play with beat boxing in it? That was gonna go over well.
The morning of the trip was rainy and hectic. Teachers rushed to check students in and make sure they had permission to attend, and students ran onto the buses, trying to avoid getting wet. But when we finally got to the theater (on time!) everyone’s mood had brightened. A Round House staffer recognized the students from the stage: “We have Bell Multicultural High School here!” and the whole house erupted in loud cheering. Jennifer Restak, one of the eleventh grade English teachers, was overjoyed. “They DO have school spirit, they DO like school!”
The play was fantastic (you can read one review here), and I loved it, but I have to admit that I was also watching the students watch the play. They were definitely not a passive audience: they laughed loudly, clapped for the moments they especially liked, and occasionally responded with Ohhs and Ooohs. Kelly MacIsaac, Round House Education and Outreach Program Assistant, told me that our students were among the show’s best audiences, and that she could tell that the actors were feeding off their energy. “I’m so happy you’re here. These are the kids that need to see this show,” she said.
Back at school, I bumped into Patricio, one of the eleventh graders. I asked him how his play was going, to which he replied, “Okay. I have a lot to do. It’s just that the play gave me a lot of ideas.”
Big thanks to the whole eleventh grade English team at Bell, our wonderful volunteer chaperones, the incredible Round House staff, and of course, UNIVERSES for making this trip happen.