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.
Playwriting is all based on dialogue and character. These East Palo Alto kids are characters. And they love to talk. So put two and two together and the result is better than when peanut butter met jelly at bread’s party.
I wasn’t in the mood to screw around today. All the usual excuses were thrown out the window immediately. Bad-cop teacher was in the class room. The anti-Jew Marine was back in class, asking me how to “say swear words in Jewish”, but his baiting was ignored as the rest of the class got ready to do the drama exercise taught by my fantastic co-teacher. The exercise involved creating a one-word story by going around the circle and everyone contributing one word to the saga. The EPA class created a five sentence story along the lines of:
Bill had an ugly cat that was on Uranus. Joe and Bill took the cat to be cleaned, but when they opened the box, the cat was dead. It was an ugly and gross cat from Uranus. The cat went up to the Ghost Planet before going back to Uranus.
After the exercise, it was on to playwriting. I gave them the following picture and prompt and even got a few thespians-in-the-making to come up and act out the prompt.
(Lights up on park in East Palo Alto. SONIA, 16, waits on a bench, zipping up her hoodie as the afternoon sun begins to set. JAVIER, 18, enters and slides up to Sonia on the bench.)
JAVIER: ‘Sup, girl. What’s goin’ on? You don’t show up to have lunch with me…you ain’t return none of my phone calls.
SONIA: Javier —
J: Seriously, I was ’bout to break some skulls looking’ for you ‘fore you called me. (Pause.) So…what’s goin’ on with you?
S: I want to break up…
From there, they were to continue writing the scene that they wanted to. A lot complained about first about the names and that they didn’t want to write “about sad stuff, like girls and boys breakin’ up” but they had more to say that they originally thought. There was a good solid five-to-ten minutes of just writing. Even the one EPA student who usually draws pictures, if anything at all, was writing an action packed scene.
Several of the students got up in front of the class, divas on stage, and performed their scenes for the rest of the class. Most of the time their audience was engaged in the material, with genuine “oooohhhh‘s” and “daaaammnnns” coming out at various points in their presentations. Love was a rough subject, but one which they didn’t shy away from.
Here are some anonymous excepts from some of the work from this session at East Palo Alto:
J: Who you gonna believe? We’ve been together for 2 years and in those 2 years you didn’t hear shit, but all of a sudden you do? You just startin’ shit.
S: (mad, crying) Wow, Javier, really? I’m done. Bye!!!
J: Fuck you then, bitch! Worthless piece of shit. I thought you loved me! That you trusted me. With no trust there is no love!
S: (to the audience) Days later…Javier really started calling up bitches, showin’ he was the boss. Life is tuff, you gotta live through it either way. Shit can’t change once it’s gone. — Response to Prompt #7
S: You’re a fool. Stop being a jerk and wake up from the dream you are in. WAKE UP AND OPEN YOUR EYES AND SEE THIS WORLD AS IT IS! Open them and then welcome yourself to reality.
J: …fuck you.
S: Ugh, Javier. Out of my way.
(He saw her walking away. He knew he lost her and that he’ll never get her back. He also knew that she deserved better than him, so he let her go. Sonia and Javier became good friends five years later after he got sober and they decided to go out with other people, but it didn’t work because they were still in love.)
S: I’ll go out with you if you stay sober.
J: I promise you I will and if I don’t, I promise you I won’t beg you, follow you, or ask you to be friends.
S: Ok. I trust you, Javier.
S: Don’t let me down.
J: I won’t.
— Response to Prompt #7
J: I forgot how to fall in love. I haven’t felt it since 7th grade and since then I have thought all girls are hoes. I think love is bullshit. I think it’s a waste of time, but out of nowhere you feel like you found the right girl for you and you’re scared to go for it because you’re scared that she’s going to hurt you. Time passes, a month or two, then she breaks up with you out of nowhere. You feel like it’s the end of the world and there is nothing in the world that can cheer you up and you end up saying, “fuck love!!” — Response to Prompt #7