A.C.T. Brings Theater to Ida B. Wells High School

Posted by Cait Robinson, Publications Fellow

Ida B. Wells classroom teacher Jessie Lindquist and A.C.T. Resident Artist Tyrone Davis congratulate students on their performances. Photo by Dan Rubin.
San Francisco’s Ida B. Wells High School is a continuation (alternative) public school for students who have not been successful in other academic settings. Many students have faced significant hardship, both academic and personal, and Ida B. Wells offers them a second chance at earning their high school diploma.

For the past quarter, A.C.T. Resident Artist Tyrone Davis has been meeting with three Ida B. Wells classes twice a week to teach acting and writing. The students read Homer’s Odyssey and Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun in class, then attended a production of Derek Walcott’s Caribbean interpretation of The Odyssey performed by A.C.T.’s second-year Master of Fine Arts Program students. Under Davis’s guidance, they each wrote a monologue inspired by a theme they selected from The Odyssey: beauty, betrayal, trust, love, greed, disappointment in family and friends who have let them down. Last week, they performed their monologues for their schoolmates and teachers in their classroom and onstage in the school’s cafetorium.

Ida B. Wells student Henok Taddesse performs onstage in the school’s cafetorium. Photo by Dan Rubin.
Davis says many of his students transformed over the six weeks he spent with them. “On the first day of class, I walked into a room full of uncomfortable kids who refused to speak, or even to look me in the eye. On the day of the performance, I had students volunteering to go first.” Davis, who grew up in a troubled part of Los Angeles, identifies with many of the students’ experiences. “Theater saved my life,” he says. “It gave me a way out of a perilous environment. I believe it has the power to instruct, heal, challenge, and revolutionize people, and after my first quarter at Ida B. Wells, that belief has deepened.” Ida B. Wells classroom teacher Jessie Lindquist called Davis’s influence “inspiring,” both for her and her students. “He brings out the best in them,” she says. “Their end-of-quarter performances exceeded their own expectations.”

Ida B. Wells students take a group bow with A.C.T. Resident Artist Tyrone Davis (far right). Photo by Dan Rubin.
Before seeing the M.F.A. Program production of The Odyssey, many of the Ida B. Wells students had never seen live theater before, much less written and performed it, but the transformation Davis speaks of was evident in their presentations. “Their courage was incredible. They were terrified to perform onstage for the first time, but they persevered and they were supportive of each other,” says A.C.T. Director of Education Elizabeth Brodersen. “I was deeply moved to see A.C.T.’s mission in action—a new generation inspired by an ancient classic to find and speak with their own powerful voices. These are future theater lovers, A.C.T.’s future audience members, and developing citizens of our world. I am proud to know them.”

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