Classroom Scene(1)

Youth in the Parkside area of Portland performed an original theater piece on the evening of July 21st that they had created as part of MAAE’s Building Community Through the Arts (BCTA) program. The group of mostly immigrant and minority youth meet as part of OPEN (Organization for Partnership and Engagement with Neighborhoods), an after school and week-end program in Portland’s Parkside area that empowers diverse youth to take an active role in the decision making and dialogue around social justice issues affecting their community. The play, the result of a partnership between OPEN and MAAE, was the first time that the OPEN program had incorporated theater.

During a three-week residency with BCTA theater artist Jeri Pitcher the group created “Amy’s First Day,” a play exploring the social problems faced in school by the title character Amy, an African girl newly arrived in Portland. The play also explored the social problems in school facing minority and immigrant youth in general. These included rejection of African immigrant students by black students born in America, teachers expressing surprise at the academic accomplishments of their black students, and Muslim youth being made to feel uncomfortable about their custom of daily prayer, while also being looked at with suspicion by white students.


Part of the tension that the play explored was the question the students faced in all of these situations of whether to accept and work around the daily indignities and obstacles or to try to confront them, and if so, how.

The powerful and compelling play, performed for the Parkside community, included monologues when the characters spoke directly to the audience about their motivations. In a facilitated discussion with the audience afterward, many in the audience commented on how true to life the situations were and how insightful the monologues were as well.


For BCTA this represents an important new phase.  So far the program has been operating only in school classrooms, and in areas of the state where social issues are based on socio-economic rather than racial and religious diversity.  We will be working with OPEN and with the youth themselves on ways that we might take the BCTA program into the Portland schools, and the best way to do that to effect change.  We’d welcome your input as well. To contribute to this discussion and/or for more information contact MAAE director Susan Potters either by email ( or by phone 207 439-3169.

Amy and Sharon