East Palo Alto Storytelling, Part 10

Jake Arky is the co-founder of So Say We All. At the time that this article was published, he is completing a playwriting residency with TheatreWorks, Silicon Valley. The Young Playwrights Project involves writing new, original works for the stage and teaching performance/writing classes in local high schools.

Class 10:

Ask and ye shall receive.

Since questioning the East Palo Alto class about what they wanted to focus on with their collection of monologues and scenes — love, gangs, relationships, school — I’ve been trying to come up with more prompts that would stimulate their minds and get them interested in topics they wanted to focus on. No sense in trying to pry open their minds on issues they couldn’t care less about.

Today started with a relaxation exercise that actually went pretty well. Most of the kids enjoyed lying down on the ground, taking twenty minutes or so to relax, and then jumping into the exercise for today. They wanted to talk about issues around school, therefore, school is what they got.

Prompt #8 -- What happens when a mother finds out her child is dropping out of school?

(Lights up on a kitchen in an apartment located in East Palo Alto, California. A MOTHER, late 40’s, enters, coming home from her job. Tired, she goes over to the sink and pours herself a glass of water. Her teenage son, JULIO, dressed in his pajamas, enters the kitchen.)

JULIO: How was your job today?

MOTHER: Which one? They were both tiring…

JULIO: I have something to tell you.


JULIO: I’m dropping out of school.

MOTHER: (Pause.) What?! No….why?

From there, the EPA storytelling students continued the scene. Now, here’s something that is somewhat telling about how the students viewed this scenario: most of the assignment came back with the character of Julio dropping out of school due to getting his girlfriend pregnant. Not only did this show up in the majority of the pieces, but it also was used as the reversal (otherwise known as ‘the twist’ at the most climactic point of the story).

Here are some anonymous excepts from some of the work from this session at East Palo Alto:

J: I just don’t think school is for me.

M: Do you want to end up like me!

J: No, mother, that’s why I’ma help you out.

M: How are you going to find a nice job without finishing high school? After everything I fuckin’ did for you! So I can give you an education and this is how you pay me back.

J: No, mom.

M: (crying) No, shut up. You’re my future…I have my hopes and dreams on you.

J: I’m sorry, mom. I don’t even know what to do any more.

M: Stay in school.


M: Ay, mijo, no. Stay in school. In school you could find a better job and find a job that will pay you good. And right now you just going to find a job that’s going to pay you $8.00 an hour.

J: At least that’s something, ma. And look at you: you suffering a lot and I don’t like seeing you like that.

M: Mijo, I know you care a lot about me, but baby, think about your education first.

J: A’ight, ma, I am. Just for you. But I already have my plans.

M: Hijo, if you do drop out I’ma be disappointed in you and very disappointed.

J: Aah, ma, you make things difficult.

M: Well just think about it, por favor.

J: A’ight, then I’ll tell you my decision.

M: Okay, but I’m here to support you.

J: Thanks, mom. I know you understand.


M: Do you want to end up like me!! HUH!! Do you want to work two job, still not being able to raise a fuckin’ family! (She slaps Julio.)

J: What the fuck!?!

M: You can’t do this to me! I don’t want this to happen.

J: I have to drop out. I’m taking Algebra and I’m in 11th grade. Do you believe I can make it?

M: If you ask your teachers for help you might be able to get good grades.

J: How is that going to happen, even if I do good I won’t be able to go to college?


J: Besides, my girlfriend is pregnant…and I think I’m the dad.

M: What!!!

J: I’m offering to help her. I made it clear and I’m doing it. That’s it…