A 16-day Theater, Music and Social Justice camp taught 15 actors from age 10 to 13 years old not only performing skills but also about how to create scenes relevant to modern living.
On the last day of camp – which wound up Thursday, July 1 – the young actors created their lines for a domestic violence scenario involving an abusive husband, a wife trying to stand up for herself, and two children cowering on the sideline, trying to think of things to say that would diffuse their father’s anger.
Sayeeda Carter, a public school drama teacher and the camp director, encouraged the members and audience to chime in with suggestions for de-escalating the situation. She then asked the troupe to list the “ism’s” they saw and heard portrayed in the scene. Sexism and chauvinism were voiced by the class who added that fear, rage, power, and determination were all displayed, obvious through the actors’ body language. One student said that the mother and kids were treated as objects by the father.
“We wanted to use the work of Augusto Boal’s Forum Theater to create small scenes that are both realistic and relevant, and then we looked at ways to make these stories better for all involved,” Carter said. “I wanted to provide young people with a space to explore the dramatic arts while thinking actively about their families, their community and the larger world.”
(Forum Theater is based on the 1970’s “Theatre of the Oppressed” or “Theatre for Development” created by Augusto Boal, whose aim was to help audience members identify their “internal oppressions” in order to begin to overcome them.)
Although the 15 campers were young, they understood the social issues such as “ageism,” “lookism,” racism and economic inequity, Carter said. Some students had more acting experience than others, but doing the class, “we honor who each kid is.”
The class also studied the terminology of social issues and learned fundamental issues of respect. They studied virtues and famous quotes that taught life lessons, such as “The young, no doubt, make mistakes; but the old when they try to think for them, make even greater mistakes,” by Bertrand Russell.
Carter’s 16-day camp met in the morning at the Caribbean Museum Center for the Arts and was sponsored through a grant from the Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands. The purpose of the camp was for adolescents to learn music, theater, drumming, African crafts and the meaning of social justice.
“I felt like I’m someone aware of social justice. As the 16 days progressed, I felt like I‘ve had more of a connection and understanding of different techniques and different points,” Zuma Nisbitt said.
Lunch was provided each day for the class before the afternoon sessions began. During the afternoon, Elizabeth Robb taught drumming and creating musical instruments – axatse/shekeres rattles.
The smaller percussion instruments made from gourds and covered with a crocheted net of beads, shells and seeds are called axatse and large shakers are shekeres/chekeres. The students strung colorful beads on macrame weavings that were then attached to the gourds.
“They originated from West Africa, Nigeria probably. But gourds have been used as vessels and instruments for millennia. So impossible to track it specifically,” Robb said.
The rattles were a variety of colors, patterns and sizes. While posing for a photo, students practiced playing a beat together.
Carter hopes to continue the classes and involve older teens during the school year. She said young people are able to discuss heavy topics like racism, sexism and wealth disparities and make insightful comments.
On the last day of class, students made comments that demonstrated their awareness of social inequities. For example:
“It was hard and sometimes awkward to delve into topics where your ancestors hurt someone else’s. But I feel it’s important to tell the truth about the past to make a better future with your friends,” said Marina Gasperi, age 12.