Like myths passed through time, their stories are epic

High school stu­dents from Kens­ing­ton’s Mari­ana Bracetti Academy told per­son­al tales at The Walk­ing Fish Theatre last week.

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

Man­aging Ed­it­or Mi­kala Jam­is­on can be reached at 215-354-3113 or at mjam­is­

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