A reporter stood up, pad in hand and addressed the cast of Long Wharf Theatre’s production brownsville song (b-side for tray.) They wanted to know what made the actors want to perform in the play.
“You guys get up in the morning to go to school, right? You get ready, you have breakfast, you go to school. That is how our family is in the play,” said Curtiss Cook Jr., who plays Tray, the doomed hero of the play. “Unfortunately, something happens to me in the play that’s really unfair. This is a real story that people hear about sometimes. The play is about addressing those problems that seem so senseless, and working to stop it from happening again.”
The reporters asking questions were from the East Rock Record, the twice-yearly newspaper of East Rock Community Magnet School in New Haven. Thirty-eight third through eighth grade students participate in the weekly afterschool journalism program, working in teams to report and write a variety of stories.
The program is led by Laura Pappano, an author and journalist with the New York Times, and a Long Wharf Theatre board member. It’s a serious operation – the front page stories in the first edition of the year include an interview with New Haven Police Chief Dean Esserman, coverage of First Lady Michelle Obama’s talk at Wilbur Cross High School in October, and a piece on expansion of the school garden. The Long Wharf interview will be a full page in the next edition, with a photo spread to go along with it.
“What are some of the things you are curious about?” Pappano asked her young reporters, all of whom sported press passes and carried genuine reporters’ notebooks.
It turns out they were curious about quite a bit. They wanted to know what drew the actors to the play. One little girl asked if doing a play with such serious subject matter effected them emotionally and mentally. Another wanted to know if it was hard to learn all those lines, prompting a big laugh from the cast and a confession from Curtiss Cook that he had a bit of trouble in that department. They wanted to know if the actors got paid. How much were the actors like their characters?
It was a freewheeling conversation, with actors joking with the young kids, and them listening seriously to the answers they were given. “(Kimber Lee) wrote the play like it was poetry and we had to bring it to life like it was real,” said actress Sung Yun Cho.
Curtiss Cook Jr. (Tray) and Kaatje Welsh (Devine) performed a charming scene in which she tells her big brother about her role as a tree in an upcoming production of Swan Lake. “She’s my little sister for real. It feels like that,” Cook said about his relationship with Welsh.
Sure, the kids were cute and the actors charming. But the interaction had a serious undercurrent. The actors took the opportunity to tell them about the importance of their story, and how kids like Tray aren’t just statistics, or a clip in the newspaper. “The play is shedding light on something that gets overlooked,” Cook said.
After the impromptu press conference (and a few autographs) the young reporters headed over to a computer room to write. After all, they were on deadline.
– Steve Scarpa