Beating the odds through theater: Student voices at Suzanne Roberts Theatre

MACS students onstage at PTC for Philly Reality 2015. Image courtesy of PTC.

“What would you fight for even if the odds were stacked against you?”

As part of its artistic mission, Philadelphia Theatre Company (PTC) includes youth programming that promotes creativity and theater development on stage and behind the scenes. This year, participants of PTC’s Philly Reality program created 10-minute plays based on the question above.

The Philly Reality residence includes classroom workshops, attending PTC productions, and creating a play from scratch. Students are given the opportunity to develop their own 10-minute piece in collaboration with classmates, and then perform it at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre. Teaching artists mentor students through the writing and production process, where students learn about sound, lighting, and stage design elements.

Understanding the theatrical process first-hand

One of the schools currently participating in Philly Reality is the Multicultural Academy Charter School (MACS), located on North Broad Street.

“The kids love it. It’s really the highlight of the drama class that they take. I think [PTC] can offer opportunities for the students that I can’t provide in the classroom,” MACS English teacher and drama department head Lauren Wiseley said of the program.

“Here they are at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre, in front of several hundred people, with professional lights and sound, and they really understand what the theatrical experience is, and what it is to go through that process,” she continued.

Maureen Sweeney, PTC director of education and Philly Reality program producer, is also passionate about that mission. She encourages students to make their pieces something that can happen only in theater, as opposed to film. Sweeney also said that the most beautiful part of the program is the final debriefing, when students are unable to recall how an initial idea started because of the highly collaborative process.

One of the program’s teaching artists, Griffin Stanton-American, also appreciates how the MACS students are able to create something using their unique voices and experiences: “They really get to make something that they have their own stamp on.”

Another MACS teaching artist, Danielle Rodino, believes it’s beneficial for students in the program to be able to experience plays from the audience, and then as someone on the stage.

“They know what it feels like…when the lights go out and the curtain comes down on that stage from the audience perspective, and now they get to do it from the other side.”

Student voices

“Growing up I didn’t have much... I was fighting. What are you fighting for?”

“I am fighting for a voice, a say in what happens in my life.

“I am fighting for understanding.”

“For love…”

These are a snapshot of the 10-minute play that students from MACS have created. Three Philly Reality students shared their experiences, each appreciative of the people they have met and the skills they have learned.

Angel has spent two seasons in the program. “This is an opportunity to meet different kinds of people. If you just go by your life every day, you just think everybody does the same old thing, but in reality, maybe you have a couple of friends who have this hidden talent that you didn’t know about.”

He encourages folks to come out and see the show and adds that it’s a chance to see people’s “true colors that they might not show you at work or in school.”

Samantha is participating in Philly Reality for the first time, and she encourages students to “try something new, step out of your box.”

And as Breyana iterates, students have the power to use their own voices: “For our shows, basically everybody has a choice.”

Two performances

You can catch Angel, Samantha, Breyana, and all of this year’s Philly Reality creators at show one on March 15 at 1pm and 7pm at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre at Broad and Lombard Streets. This will include students of Lincoln High School, Multicultural Academy Charter School, Science Leadership Academy, and World Communications Charter School. Then, at show two on March 17 at 1pm and 7pm, students from Philadelphia High School for the Creative and Performing Arts, PTC’s ActOut Saturday Class, and Philadelphia’s Performing Arts Charter High School will perform. Both shows are free, but you can reserve tickets in advance online.

At right: MACS students work on their script in the after-school drama program. Image courtesy of PTC.