I lost my father at a young age, but I forgive the person who killed him.
I hold a lot of things inside. It’s hard because I have no support from the people I love.
I feel unsafe in school—after everything that has happened this year, how can I feel safe?
These are but three of the lines pulled from the lives of a group of Kensington high school students—lines they recited to two separate audiences May 16 at The Walking Fish Theatre as part of a performance entitled Of Mythic Proportions.
The performance’s cast is ten students from a theater class taught by Kathleen Gaynor at Mariana Bracetti Academy High School (2501 Kensington Ave.). It was presented by B. Someday Productions, an independent theater company that produces educational outreach programs as well as its theatrical works.
Gaynor said the initial announcement that her class would be participating in the play was met with some opposition.
“For them, it’s sort of like ‘surprise, you’re doing a performance,’” she said. “Some of them are resistant to it.”
This is the fourth year of residency for B. Someday at the school, and the play is also the 2010 Barrymore Award winner from the Theatre Alliance of Greater Philadelphia for Educational Excellence and Community Service.
Michelle Pauls, managing artistic director for B. Someday, started the company six years ago, and was the original teaching artist. The Walking Fish Theatre (2509 Frankford Ave.) is where B. Someday calls home, and is where the students found themselves stepping into very special roles—themselves.
Of Mythic Proportions was created from the students’ personal stories of life in Kensington. During the performance, each student reads aloud lines that other students have written, and no one knows whose story is whose.
That sense of expression through anonymity allows the students, they say, to feel that they can share their stories without judgment.
“At first, I wasn’t feeling the class,” said junior Oscar Figueroa. A self-proclaimed shy person, Figueroa said what helped him come around was the “all in this together” feeling of the play.
“If everyone else is doing it and no one else has a problem, we’re all doing the same thing,” he said. “It feels good.”
Senior Malik Wilson agrees. One part of his story was the death of his cousin, who he felt was like a brother.
“I took his death and turned it into positive energy,” Wilson said. “I’m living in his memory.”
The semester-long production, led by Gaynor as well as Hannah MacLeod, now the lead teaching artist for B. Someday, even inspired some students to want to act in the future. Gaynor said she sees a bright future for Wilson in particular.
“Malik is the one who’s been the most impressive,” she said. “He wouldn’t share his writing in the beginning, but we had a spoken-word artist come in, and suddenly he shared a poem he had written.”
Along with the spoken-word artist, Deputy Mayor Richard Negrin spoke to the class about issues in his own life.
“Some of our male students have a harder time opening up,” MacLeod said. “But when Negrin spoke about issues in his own life, it gave the students allowance to speak.”
Gaynor said the process is a unique opportunity to get to know her students on a different level.
“It’s opened my eyes as a teacher— after some of the stories I read, I understand why this kid is cranky in the morning, or why this kid has moods or trust issues.”
Junior Maria Canela said that the performance helped keep her mind off the issues in her own life.
“I just feel like it’s a way to express myself without getting judged,” she said. “When I hear my story, I feel relieved.”
Gaynor said she’s now more aware of the realities of her students’ lives in Kensington.
“There are things going on every day in this neighborhood that I can’t even imagine growing up with, and these kids do,” she said.
The play, though, has helped her students learn to cope.
“This is a healthy way for them to know they can survive and keep going. This process helps them heal and feel like they’re not alone.”
Figueroa said the class has allowed students who might not have interacted before to become friends.
“I’m pretty sure this class has changed everybody,” he said.
MacLeod said the process is overwhelmingly positive.
“These kids go on to feel strong and confident about themselves,” she said. “They have only just begun to realize how valuable they are.”
Along with the somewhat painful experiences the students shared in the performance, the overwhelming feeling of Of Mythic Proportions is one of optimism and of hope.
I’ve been through a lot, reads one line.
I have a bad past, but a great future in front of me.
To learn more about B. Someday Productions, visit www.bsomeday.org.
Managing Editor Mikala Jamison can be reached at 215-354-3113 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.