Finding Their Voices: DHS Students at A.C.T.

By Stephanie Wilborn 

In The Rueff, students from Downtown High School (DHS) are pacing back and forth, memorizing lines, and putting up lights in the rafters. After months of preparation and hard work, they are putting the finishing touches on their exhibition, A Mask I Do Not Fit, a collection of original works on topics of gender and identity.

DHS Movement Class 2016. Photo by Stephanie Wilborn.
Since 2012, A.C.T. has collaborated with DHS to explore educational opportunities through theater. The school’s Acting for Critical Thought project allows the students to learn and discover thought-provoking performances through acting, playwriting, and movement.

At the beginning of the semester, the DHS students came to A.C.T. once a week and studied acting techniques with A.C.T.’s Community and Artistic Director Tyrone Davis. Together, the students and Davis built a trusting relationship through improv and ensemble-based games. They learned theater terminology and were introduced to teaching artists, such as A.C.T.’s Head of Movement Stephen Buescher. They discovered different types of theater, from poetry to clowning.

After months of building trust and knowledge, the DHS class was ready to discover and create its own works of theater at 826 Valencia, a non-profit organization striving to serve and support under-served youth through the creative outlet of writing. From there, the students put their words on their feet and rehearsed.

DHS student Jocelyn Lainez-Robles in 2015 exhibition.
A Mask I Do Not Fit is about gender and identity, topics that DHS senior Jocelyn Lainez-Robles believes are important subjects for teens to discuss. “It’s difficult for teens to talk about it. We hear it on TV and Instagram posts, but we ignore it. But we have a voice too. We’re teens, and we experience it on day to day basis. We may not be adults, but we are aware of what is expected of us by being a boy or a girl.”

Lainez-Robles has participated in more than four exhibitions with A.C.T., and attributes her academic and personal growth to this program. “I would have never thought I could write and perform my own words. I discovered that I do have a way with words and I am able to inspire others. I’ve had issues with others, but A.C.T. has helped me with that. I have learned how to express myself properly and see what I need to change within me. I see that my life does matter and from now on I channel that energy into positivity. I don’t think I could do that without the acceptance and love I have received from A.C.T.”

Please come and join us for Downtown High School’s free exhibition A Mask I Do Not Fit this Friday, December 9 at 9:30 a.m., 11 a.m., and 1 p.m. at The Strand. For tickets, please email

Stephanie Wilborn is the Education Fellow at A.C.T.

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