Students at Benjamin Franklin High School tackle real life onstage.
Robert Ingram, the high school football star, slouches over the long, collapsible, standard-issue, public school cafeteria table and rests his head on his arm.
“Why you not eating, man?” asks his friend, Anthony Wortham. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” Ingram mumbles as he fondles his cell phone.
“You usually crushing stuff, you big strong man,” Wortham sasses.
“Don’t be playing like that,” Ingram answers, his voice a mixture of annoyance and defeat.
The star athlete, it turns out, has just learned that his football scholarship to college was rescinded because his grades are so bad.
“I might as well start hustling or something,” Ingram concedes.
The seven other students at the table jump to life, fighting to keep Ingram from falling prey to the streets. They offer their own tales of battling difficulties.
“I used to be a straight-A student,” Roberta Wilkins announces. “Not anymore. I’m pregnant.”
The table erupts with students badgering the high school junior about who’s the father. Other students enter the scene, and arguing ensues. The situation quickly escalates into shouting and shoving.
As music blares from the speakers and dancers hit the stage, chaotic, fake violence explodes. Students air-punch each other and mock wrestle all around.
Then the curtain closes, bringing the scene to an end.
The students at Benjamin Franklin High School wanted to do a talent or fashion show, but the principal, Christopher Johnson, challenged the students to combine everything into a spring play. It would be the first ever public theater production in the school’s history.
Interested, but unsure of how to proceed, the students approached their student government advisor, Leonard Bryant. A 26-year-old former star football player at Indiana University who also coaches Ben Franklin’s softball team and assists the football team, Bryant saw an opportunity for the students to empower themselves.
“This play is all them,” he says.
With the help of a playwright, the students crafted a script using themes from their own lives. They wrote songs and choreographed dance steps. They built the set, sold tickets and rehearsed for up to three hours per day, usually directing themselves.
About 60 students got involved.
On May 1, they’ll present Having Done All to Stand, a multifaceted performance touching on issues of violence, addiction, parenthood, sexuality, education and conflict resolution.
“It’s like a high school musical,” Bryant says, “but it’s almost real.”
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