Inside WAM’s 2019 In-School Ensemble

Inside WAM’s 2019 In-School Ensemble

by Talya Kingston

It’s mid-December 2018, and a group of 13 young people are standing in a circle in the Richmond School auditorium.  WAM’s Teaching Artist Amy Brentano just opened up a conversation about the nature of lies and truth by asking them to introduce themselves with three statements – two truths and a lie.  One participant tried three times but kept telling the truth. “I can’t lie!” she said. They can’t stop giggling. Their openness, creativity and bravery astounded me even at that first meeting.  

“It doesn’t matter how much time you have, if you work hard enough you can create a masterpiece.”

– 14-year-old participant

A classroom exercise at Reid Middle School.

“I didn’t know what devised theatre was before this program. Everything we created has never been seen outside these walls.  Through the WAM program, I remembered what my true passions are, and how important they are to me.”

– 17-year-old participant

For the past two months, three WAM Teaching Artists – myself, Amy Brentano, and Lia Rusell-Self – and four WAM Teaching Assistants – Sakiya Bisher-Nea, Lucy Schwartz, Heidi Singe, and Eve MacDougall – brought WAM’s devised theatre methods into residence at four area schools.  We created four intersecting ensembles at Reid Middle School, Richmond Consolidated School, the Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter Public School (PVPA), and Pittsfield High School (PHS). A total of 46 students participated in these ensembles.

WAM Teaching Artists and Assistants for the 2019 In-School Ensembles. Photo David Dashiell

“I can have a voice in the performance without worrying about the thoughts of others.  I was able to share my love of writing with others. My writing inspired the other actors and helped move the play along.  This experience was so much fun! I especially loved incorporating different art styles into our piece.”

– 14-year-old participant

Each group met at different times (depending on the school’s schedule) and worked at a different pace.  We opened up to the talents and creative input of the participants, so that, for example the PHS ensemble featured a band of musicians and the PVPA ensemble featured a dream ballet sequence. Our aims were:

  1. To create an original, devised piece around the theme of The Boy Who Cried Wolf
  2. To give participants ownership of their own creation
  3. To teach devised performance techniques
  4. To create a brave, supportive cohort within each school.

“I learned that I can put myself out there and that I really like creating and find it inspiring.”

– 15-year-old participant

Ensemble members from three schools warm up together before their performances. Photo David Dashiell.

“I learned that I should not count out something until I try it.”

– 17-year-old participant

“I learned that you can be brave and creative while writing a play.”

– 13-year-old participant

On February 1st, the WAM ensembles gathered at Reid Middle School’s auditorium, eager to share their own creations and to see what the other groups had made of the prompt.  They chatted to each other over pizza before Lia and Kristen led them all in a big group warm up.  An audience of family and friends gathered to see the performances and engaged in a lively post-show dialogue.  It was fascinating to see the different directions each group took and inspiring to see their commitment on stage.  The performances asked profound questions about the nature of truth, who we believe, and when a lie is forgivable or even necessary.  One parent reported that it was like going to a gallery exhibit of works by different artists responding to the same theme.  

The following weekend the Richmond School Ensemble performed the impressive full-length version of their devised performance LIAR LIAR as their annual school play.  The playbill included this quote by Amy: “Theatre remains a powerful venue for expression, community building and protest.  Young people deserve a platform for all three. WAM’s Teen Ensemble continues to provide young people with extraordinary experiences in theatre shaping environments where they can develop their personal visions and confident selves.”

[ngg src=”galleries” ids=”1″ exclusions=”21,50,51″ display=”basic_slideshow”]Above is a slideshow of rehearsal and performance photographs. All performance photos by David Dashiell.