Two English classes in Piscataquis Community Secondary School in Guilford and one English class and one drama class in Penquis Valley High School in Milo created theater pieces during Building Community Through the Arts residencies (see our most recent website post) and performed their works at the Center Theatre in Dover Foxcroft on October 27th and November 3rd. Parents and members of the community also attended, and all had an opportunity to watch compelling works of original theater, each exploring social themes that the students had chosen.
Teacher Joseph Hennessey’s two senior English classes from PCSS in Guilford, working with theater artist Jeri Pitcher, had each selected a different theme in the novel, Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, to relate to a social issue in their own lives. One class chose the theme of the “demon child” from the novel, and in a piece that included powerful theatrical group chanting effects, showed the “demon child” as a high school student who is socially ostracized. The other PCSS class addressed the novel’s theme of a hoped for “week of peace” that never materializes because “things fall apart.” Using the structure of a television newscast, the students showed the incidents that would be Guilford’s version of “things falling apart.”
Penquis HS teacher Chad Emery’s two classes worked with artist Beverly Mann. Mr. Emery’s College Prep 10 English class, discussing the issue of socio-economic disparity in The Great Gatsby, created a powerful play about poverty’s social stigma in their own community. The plot focused on what happens when a student spreads a negative rumor about another student’s family, but the fact that the rumor is that the student’s family is poor shows how poverty affects youth socially in the community.
Beverly Mann brings her specialty of mask theater to her residencies, and the students in Mr. Emery’s drama class wore half masks in the piece they created about the interplay of parent child relationships and the safety risks young people are willing to take. In this case the strict rules imposed by a mother not sensitive to her daughter’s anguish at feeling unpopular, becomes the impetus for the daughter breaking rules and injuring herself… an outcome that ultimately brings a realization by both mother and daughter about how much each means to the other.
For the three English classes this was the students’ first time on a stage, and even for the drama class it was the students’ first attempt at creating theater.  The students in all four classes talked about the program’s creative process through group improvisation as giving them a new sense of closeness with one another. Teacher Chad Emery spoke about his admiration for the students’ work and about the combined impact of the program: “The program helps bring students closer together as evolving 21st century problem solvers…. teachers are able to witness these future leaders’ dynamic flexibility, creativity, and innate inspiration.  In seeing our students on stage, we see ourselves and all that the future has in store.”
Building Community Through the Arts in Piscataquis County was supported by funding from the Piscataquis County Fund of the Maine Community Foundation and the Maine Arts Commission.