East Palo Alto Storytelling, Part 4

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 4:

“There is always going to be resistance at first,” my boss said today. “But eventually they open up.” That certainly was the case for this go-round of the East Palo Alto storytelling class. It started out with me talking out loud, but it seemed like I was talking to nobody but myself. No one was sitting down, and even some of the more focused students getting side-tracked. However, once the we brought out some of their older work and read it aloud, the class became like a kitten transfixed by a shiny piece of tinsel: they didn’t let go.

The idea behind today’s exercise was to re-examine what the students had learned about storytelling so far, to see that someone (the teachers and now their fellow students) were paying attention, and what they had to say mattered. It was also the beginnings of a patchwork project, to eventually turn these clips of writing featured on the So Say We All blog and in class into monologues. These monologues will then be performed by actors later next month. The goal is to legitimize what the students are doing because many think the class is a waste of time until they are done and have a two page story in front of them about being homeless at the age of 10. And they realize they wrote it.

After the cut and paste exercise, we moved on to a mad-libs-plus-build-your-own story. It basically split the class into three factions — those who didn’t do it, those who did it half-heartedly, and those who took the prompt and ran with it all the way. Here’s what we gave them:

East Palo Alto mornings are ____________ (adjective) and sometimes the hardest thing is to figure out is where to get breakfast or if you are going to have breakfast at all. _____________ (name) reached inside of her pocket to see if she had any spare change. Just a few quarters, some pennies, and a _________________ (noun). Not enough to buy _____________ (noun), which meant some food from the vending machine would be it for today.

It was then that she saw ______________ (name), walking towards her. He looked _____________ (adjective), different from how he looked in EPA two years ago. Two years…had it been that long? When had he gotten out of jail? He saw her and approached her ____________ (adverb).

She didn’t know what to do so she…(continue the story on your own from here)

Many of them actually got so wrapped up in what they were writing that they asked to take it home. If they would have made that request before today, I would have remained skeptical. But lo and behold, two out of three students who claimed they wanted to expand and add more to their stories from the emotional class last Thursday came through today. I got two full stories handed in by the end of class.

Here are some anonymous excepts from some of the work from the expanded stories from East Palo Alto:

That day, while we were at the apartments looking for my uncle, there were cop cars and cops at my house. They broke in and messed everything up…I know this because my sister’s boyfriend was passing by…they made themselves at home, like nothing. Waiting for us to arrive. We ran. We had to live with no hot water, no light, no nothing basically. – Expanded from Class 2

…my sis got there and she tried to get Gomes, but the cops pulled her back. Everything was so slow for her, like a dream as my bro held Gomes in his arms for the last seconds of his life. Ever since Gomes left my life — everyones’ life — things changed. He was the one to get the family together. Now, the family goes their separate ways. Now, no one gives a fuck. – Expanded from Class 2