When Kristianna Smith, Long Wharf Theatre’s Interim Principal Teaching Artist, put out a call to local students to create performance pieces about things they found inspiring, she didn’t quite know what to expect.
What she received from the students was honesty, empathetic observations about the world, and a profound sense of hope. “Given the choice to say anything, what the students chose to say was how they wanted to impact the world in the largest way possible,” Smith said.
Long Wharf Theatre is going to give those students an opportunity to speak their truths. Fifteen middle and high school performers from New Haven, Hamden, and Trumbull will be featured at Long Wharf Theatre’s first Moments and Minutes Festival. The festival will be an evening of celebration where spoken word, monologues, and visual art are showcased by students. Each piece will feature students’ perspectives of life in their community today. The performance will take place on April 17 at 7 pm on Stage II. The event is free and open to the public.
The idea for the festival came from two of the shows in Long Wharf Theatre’s 50th anniversary season: Our Town by Thornton Wilder and brownsville song (b-side for tray), by Kimber Lee.
In Our Town, students were transported to Grover’s Corners and introduced to Emily and George, learning about their lives together in their small New England town. At the end of the show, Emily poses the question to the Stage Manager: “Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it—every, every minute?”
Similarly, in brownsville song (b-side for tray), students will meet Tray, an eighteen year old growing up in Brooklyn, and will get a glimpse of his neighborhood, family and future dreams. Tray tells us in his scholarship essay “You define your life by living it, day by day, every MOMENT a chance to rise.”
Using these themes as inspiration, students were asked to write about where they come from, their hopes and aspirations in the world, and offer advice on how to really see and appreciate the world. They are working with Long Wharf Theatre’s teaching artists to shape and stage their pieces.
Jamia Jones of Hamden High School took the opportunity to talk about identity and labels. “Call me all the things you can’t and won’t figure out about me, because those labels are gonna peel off once the adhesive wears away. And no matter how many more times you try to stick them to me, your labels will never define me. I am not your labels, because those blank little pieces of paper coated with glue on one side, aren’t My identity,” Jones wrote.
Being positive. Racial identity. Health issues. Searching for one’s place in the world. Learning how to become the best person possible. These are the topics the students are bringing to the stage.“They are talking about issues everyone deals with, not just teens,” Smith said.
“I am so immensely proud of the work of the Moments and Minutes Festival which will offer students a forum for conversation self expression and discovery through the arts. Nurturing this work is of our highest mission. The courageous voices of the student artist/performers articulate a wisdom which transcends age,” said Beth Milles, director of education.