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Students engage with social issues at Dramafest

While Dramafest celebrates the joy and fun of theater each year for students across the county, this year, in addition to honoring their craft, students had the opportunity to see and use theater as a reflection of the world around them.

Students from each of Carroll's seven high schools took the stage at Carroll Community College on Friday morning to show off scenes from their spring productions, allowing everyone an opportunity to see what their fellow actors and creators have put together, including scenes from "West Side Story," "Thoroughly Modern Millie," "The Little Mermaid" and more.

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In the afternoon, though, Dramafest hosted a series of workshops with guest instructors from theater companies from throughout the state, giving students a chance to stretch their talents, network and learn about the world after graduation.

In addition to the standard classes about dance, acting range, slapstick and more, this year there was a trio of classes that dealt with social issues as they relate to theater and ways students can use theater to make an impact on the world.

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Darian Blackiston sings during a scene from FSK's production of "West Side Story," part of Dramafest 2017 at Carroll Community College in Westminster Friday, April 21, 2017.
Darian Blackiston sings during a scene from FSK's production of "West Side Story," part of Dramafest 2017 at Carroll Community College in Westminster Friday, April 21, 2017.(DYLAN SLAGLE/STAFF PHOTO / Carroll County Times)

Crew members of the Green Globe Theatre in Baltimore discussed ways to create eco-friendly theater by using sustainable and recycled materials and methods in their productions. The theater reformats all scripts to take up as few pages as possible, condensing Hamlet into only 24 pages by eliminating margins, printing on both sides and shrinking the font.

They also have gone completely digital with programs and tickets, and their sets are made from repurposed, borrowed, and donated props and structures.

During the class, they taught students how to make eco-friendly flats — the structures used as walls in a play — out of wooden frames, covered in newspaper papier-mache. With this method, they said, they could completely outfit a stage with walls at a fifth of what they would cost using a more traditional method.

Jason Schlafstein, producing artistic director of Flying V Theatre in Bethesda, hosted "The Best of Craigslist: An Introduction to Found Text Devising" where students were invited to read real Craigslist posts and figure out ways to transform them into pieces of theater, with characters, staging, costumes and all.

While many of the posts were comedic — including "Who put a dead bird in my mailbox?" and "My boyfriend is cheating on me with his Xbox" — the class also included a serious look at male entitlement called "To the perv who groped me" about a woman's interaction with a stranger who sexually assaulted her. Schlafstein said this seemed like a vital topic to address, and the structure of a found text piece is one of the best ways to bring a real-life experience to a larger audience.

Century sophomore Gillian Boline plays the Witch's Understudy during Century's performance from "Into the Woods," part of Dramafest 2017 at Carroll Community College in Westminster Friday, April 21, 2017.
Century sophomore Gillian Boline plays the Witch's Understudy during Century's performance from "Into the Woods," part of Dramafest 2017 at Carroll Community College in Westminster Friday, April 21, 2017.(DYLAN SLAGLE/STAFF PHOTO / Carroll County Times)

The most in-depth look at social issues came from "Theatre for Social Change" taught by Carroll Community College theater director Jane Frazier. The class started with an abstract assignment meant to physicalize the experience of people coming and working together.

During the exercise, each student was asked to develop a quick repetitive motion that represented their personality. Some put their hands on their hips or jumped up and down, while others covered their faces. Then two students had to come together and create a new motion that represented the both of them by combining their moves into something new. The groups were combined time and time again until the entire class had to come together to create something that represented them all.

Frazier said the exercise was a way to confront the reality of being an individual while still trying to work together as a team. The more members that were added to the task, the more difficult it became.

Following the opening exercise, Frazier asked the students to bring up social issues they faced in school. Students immediately started to describe instances of racism, casual hate-speech, sexism, homophobia and discrimination. To help spawn conversations about these topics, Frazier had students act out quick improv scenes based around several of these themes, before launching into a discussion about how these issues affected students, how they made them feel and what ways there are to confront them in their schools.

Cece Boynton, center, dances in a scene from Manchester Valley's production of "Thoroughly Modern Millie," part of Dramafest 2017 at Carroll Community College in Westminster Friday, April 21, 2017.
Cece Boynton, center, dances in a scene from Manchester Valley's production of "Thoroughly Modern Millie," part of Dramafest 2017 at Carroll Community College in Westminster Friday, April 21, 2017.(Dylan Slagle / Carroll County Times)

Frazier said theater was a great way to unlock some of these conversations that might be difficult.

"We don't always find an answer, even though we know what's going on in the world," Frazier said. "We find, though, that putting ourselves in these positions helps us see things sometimes in a new way and creates a new enlightening experience."

Before and after these classes, students got to loosen up with sessions of stand-up comedy, dance, slapstick, stage combat and other lighter concepts. Emily Ball, a senior at Winters Mill High School, said it's this diversity of options that makes the day fun.

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"You definitely get one you're comfortable with," she said. "The techs take one tech or the actors take at least one acting, but after that you get to explore around and that's what's fun about Dramafest."

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