BWW Review: MOVING ARTS ESPAÑOLA's Youth Share Their Story at United World College's Annual Conference

BWW Review: MOVING ARTS ESPAÑOLA's Youth Share Their Story at United World College's Annual Conference

Alyssa, an 8th grader in my Drama 2 class, hadn't wanted to come on tour with us--to perform in a workshop at the United World College (UWC) annual conference. I had to call her and try to convince her otherwise. She told me her pre-show nerves were too intense. I assured her that I and my co-teacher Lupita Salazar would support her through the anxiety. Alyssa begrudgingly accepted these terms, and went along.

There was ample reason for Alyssa to be nervous: This was our first ever 'tour,' our first time outside the dome theater where we conducted our Monday-Wednesday after-school drama program. As a class from Española, we represent a place with a notorious reputation due to its chronic poverty and addiction epidemics. The beautiful Moving Arts Performance Center where we rehearse (a transformed casino gambling hall) is a testament to what is possible in Española, but our theater remains a distinct contrast to UWC's sprawling high-tech campus just outside Las Vegas, New Mexico. This campus features a gigantic castle on a hill, a gym, a fully-equipped big proscenium theater...and is home to several hundred students and teachers from throughout the world. The contrast of this place, and the fact that our troupe of eight 12-15 year-olds would be the youngest group at the conference, all added up to an intimidating experience.

Our troupe faced the experience with confidence, not intimidation--although when eating at the massive Hogwarts-esque wood-paneled dining hall, a few commented that they should have dressed up (they looked fine), usually we having too much fun to care about the contrasts: Watching performances from a stomping drumming Ghanaian dance troupe--hiking through the forest to a shrine--soaking for hours in the hot springs--sleeping comfy at the historic Plaza hotel...

And yes, the conference. Just weeks after the inauguration and subsequent executive orders, the theme of the event (Justice) had become supercharged with meaning: International law, LGBTQ rights...many of the UWC students were directly affected by the Muslim Ban, and several others had been to Standing Rock--

When it came time for our performance-workshop, I began to feel intimidated myself. We were in the process of creating a play about the water issues in the Española Valley, and our performance showed scenes from this play to our workshop participants. Would these scenes seem relevant against the backdrop of the other, broader topics? Who would want to hear our local issues, amidst the roar of global turmoil?

I tried to hide my unease, but as we rehearsed I saw some anxiety began to spread throughout the troupe. I hoped it was only regular pre-show jitters. When Lupita asked Alyssa if she would speak after the performance about our creative process, Alyssa shook her head. Crossing her arms and slouching against the wall, she explained that she was afraid of her nerves.

"You'll never get rid of nerves," Lupita said, "but you can use them."

Our performance was good; afterward, our troupe helped guide the participants to create little skits of their own, about the water issues facing their home communities throughout the world. The activity made these high schoolers nervous. I asked who had done theater before; nobody raised their hands. They'd studied the issues in class, but to express them with their whole bodies--that was new to them. So our young troupe led them through the process, and Alyssa stood with poise before them and told them how we did it.

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