They come from all over Southern California. From a wide range of backgrounds, for a variety of reasons. Many have no where else to go. Each has a unique story to tell. And for the young men at Rancho San Antonio Boys Home in Chatsworth, the Odyssey Artists’ Workshop is an opportunity to use theatre as a vehicle to express their personal stories.
On Tuesday, December 13 at 7pm, the Fountain Theatre will host the culmination performance of a new play written by the incarcerated young men of Rancho San Antonio, made possible through the program launched by members of Antaeus Theatre Company.
“At the heart of the Fountain’s artistic mission is our commitment to giving voice to those who may not otherwise be heard,” says Fountain Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs. “We are happy and proud to host this program which embodies that artistic and social philosophy.”
Rancho San Antonio is a non-profit multi-service residential agency serving court-ordered adolescent boys. The primary goal of the agency is to provide an opportunity for rehabilitation of the total person through a balanced physical, social, spiritual, psychological, and educational experience. It focuses on personal responsibility, values clarification, and changing anti-social behaviors. Some of the programs provided include: individual, group and family counseling, drug treatment, educational services and emancipation assistance.
The Odyssey Artists’ Workshop is a creative writing and theatre program for young adults from high-risk environments. The workshop teaches the structural elements of non-fiction writing as well as theater performance skills through the component of Shakespeare. The students craft and perform an original theater piece of their personal stories interwoven with selected characters and themes from Shakespeare’s plays.
How did the Workshop get started?
“I had been teaching acting and dramatic writing in the lock-down juvenile camps of LA County for a while, ” says actor John Prosky, recently seen at the Fountain in our west coast premiere of Tennessee Williams’ Baby Doll. “In 2009, Kitty Swink at Antaeus Theatre Company asked me if I would like to put a Shakespeare program together at Rancho San Antonio. Kitty introduced me to artist and educator Liz Berman who had been teaching a writing program there and we decided to join our programs about 6 years ago. And Odyssey Artists’ Workshop was born.”
The Workshop now teaches at Rancho San Antonio, Homeboy Industries, Van Nuys High School, Learning Works Charter in Pasadena. It starts at New Village Charter in January.
For actor Prosky, the impetus to launch the program was personal. “After working in TV and Film for more than a decade, ” he says, “I began to wonder if I was really contributing anything to the world. Plus, I was Jesuit trained and they beat into me the idea of service. I get much more from this program than the students do.”
What happens in a typical 10-week Workshop period?
“We pick a character arc or text from a play we think a particular student population will respond to and then we perform that arc for them through scenes and soliloquies using professional classical actors,” he explains. “Then we invite the students into the plot with writing prompts, improv and other acting exercises based on what they just saw. The populations we work with tend to be highly polarized by gang affiliation and/or race, so we also spend a great deal of time on ensemble building exercises. We also do mask work and are staging a short story written by a guy on death row in San Quentin, Jarvis Jay Masters, from his book Finding Freedom.
For the young men at Rancho San Antonio, the 10-week Workshop experience is more than artistic. It is also therapeutic.
“We are not trained therapists or social workers by any means,” admits Prosky. “But all these theater exercises on a young mind that has experienced trauma is healing. I tell these guys often that if you tell your story, you will gain wisdom, strength, and a lesson, but more importantly, we as listeners to your story will gain wisdom strength and a lesson.”
“What happens to a young mind that has experienced abuse, neglect, and addiction is that a sense of empathy gets damaged. The wrong role models and a lack of empathy leads to crime. Makes sense. But the young brain is repairable. I’ve seen it over and over. These acting storytelling-exercises coupled with a lot of ensemble building techniques begins to give them back their empathy. Towards the end of the ten week session racial and gang barriers in the room begin to break down. Once they have gone through the crucible of performance, they are a new kind of gang; an ensemble.”
Because construction for Antaeus Theatre Company’s new venue in Glendale is still underway, Prosky turned to the Fountain to host this culmination performance. The Fountain Theatre immediately accepted. Prosky couldn’t be happier.
“I am so grateful to The Fountain Family for the use of their theatre for this culmination. Having just done Baby Doll at The Fountain, I felt like the positivism, love, and respect I experienced there made it the perfect place for these young men.”
The Odyssey Artists’ Workshop culmination performance will be on Tuesday, December 13, at 7pm at the Fountain Theatre. The event is free. Seating is limited. Please RSVP to Robin Campbell at firstname.lastname@example.org or (818) 506-5436.