East Palo Alto Storytelling, Part 16

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 16:

Everyone is getting nervous.

At least that’s my general take on the mood of the East Palo Alto high school storytellers. For kids who have never had their work put on display or showcased what they wrote in front of others, they seemed remarkably unnerved. Until today.

With almost a week to go before the final performance, less than six days before actors come in for rehearsals, and with only one reading of the script left, the EPA students were frantically bouncing off the walls. Many people are complaining that they want less of their material in the show (though at this point, it’s kind of hard to tell the line between one writer’s work and another) or they want to show East Palo Alto in a better light.

“Why don’t you say somethin’ good about EPA!” was a common outburst during the reading, among other things. I told them that this was all their material. If they had something positive to say about their neighborhood, let’s write it. This was met with stone-faces and shrugged shoulders, but no solutions.

Today we had no ending, no final thought like Jerry Springer to wrap up the monster we had unleashed, no moral of “change yourself before you change the world.” Trying to find that happy ending was tragically obvious: there wasn’t one.

However, the ideas, thoughts, and comments from yesterday’s class were still rolling around in everyone’s head. Why not put hope at the end? No one has to close the book and say the story ends — just this chapter. Sounded all nice and tidy, as many nodded their heads with blank stares aimed at the top of their desks, yet worry was lurking beneath their faces.

These kids — the tough guys and the outspoken girls of EPA — are still susceptible to the number one fear of human beings: public speaking. They aren’t even getting on stage and they are sweating it. It’s good. It means they care. Even if it is just a little bit, at least they care about the work they have produced.

There was no writing assignment today, but there is an updated version of the rap my student and I collaborated on:

“EPA STREETS” (RAP)

I LIVE IN THE BAY,
A MEAN SEA CREATURE/
BOTH FISTS UP, YEAH,
I GOT A DOUBLE FEATURE/
I DO WHAT I DO,
‘N I SAY WHAT I SAY/
THREE LETTER I REP,
I’M TALKIN’ E-P-A.
OTHER SIDE OF DA TRACKS
OTHER SIDE OF DA RAILS/
BUT I’M THE CONDUCTOR,
A BOSSY-ASS FEMALE/
DON’T BE COMIN’ ‘ROUND ME
IF IT’S BASED ON HATE/
FORCLOSIN’ ON BITCHES,
LIKE SUB-PRIME REAL ESTATE/
SO LISTEN UP — !
ALL YOU GANGSTAS, FOLKS, ‘N HOES/
I’M PLAYIN’ WITH YA HEADS
LIKE THEY WAS YO-YOS/
STRINGS ON MY FINGERS,
‘CAUSE THAT’S JUST HOW I ROLL/
EPA LIVES IN MY HEAD,
BUT IT ACHIN’ MY SOUL/
‘CAUSE WE GOT COOL FOLKS,
‘N WE GOT SOME ENEMIES/
GOT HATIN’ ASS BITCHES,
WHO SOUND LIKE WUNNA-BE’S/
AND GEE, LET ME SEE,
WHO DO THESE WUNNA-BE’S WANNA BE?
LET ME GIVE YA THREE GUESSES,
YEAH, IT’S ME, ME, ‘N ME!
HERE IN EPA, WE KNOWN
FOR THE FINEST/
SO GET DOWN ON ONE KNEE,
‘N CALL ME YOUR HIGHNESS/
I’M A RARE QUEEN, YEAH,
A NEEDLE IN THE HAY/
YOU DIDN’T KNOW ‘BOUT ME,
COME DOWN TO EPA/
WHERE I’MA SANDWICH YA HATE,
‘N CUT OFF THE CRUST/
‘CAUSE IN THESE EPA STREETS,
VATO, IT’S A MUST!