“Honest and authentic”, “Compelling and moving”, “An opening up experience”, “Memorable”
Teen Talk (2010)
Teen Talk (2009)
“Ojai teens talk to packed house” Fears, hopes of 300 local youth explored on stage
Linda Harmon - lHarmon@OjaiValleyNews.com
After hundreds of Ojai teenagers volunteered their innermost thoughts, a talented troupe of students and the Ojai Valley Youth Foundation brought those feelings to the stage. “Now the Teens Talk…Will You Listen?” was performed last Thursday evening at Matilija Jr. High School Auditorium to a packed house. The audience was treated to a riveting, fast-paced and thought-provoking evening.
“We have over 300 students represented tonight,” said the evening’s director, Kim Maxwell. Maxwell, currently director of Besant Hill communication and annual fund, introduced the performance, saying, “Tonight is the brainchild of Meg Wall and Dan Burrell.” According to Maxwell, OVYF program director Wall and OVYF board member Dan Burrell took on a daunting task of getting students to open their hearts and minds. In a process which took only a month and a half, they first culled questions from parent groups in schools throughout the area, private and public. They then distributed the list of questions via the schools’ English classes. To make sure students felt comfortable responding honestly, answers were kept private. It was Wall, a 23-year old not much older than the students being polled, who compiled the responses and gave them to Maxwell. Maxwell, also a professional writer, drama teachers, and a founder of Theatre 150, then molded the material into the readings that the 12 students performed on stage.
“The really only had three rehearsals,” said Maxwell, who added they made the last revisions the day of the show. “I was really impressed by the level of commitment of the students who participated.” The troupe that took the stage for the readings were: Brianna Bohnett, Kim Del Manzano, Mitch Edelson, Karla Flores, Lumi Grasso, Sierra Hoskins, Giani Interiano, Lily Mays, Tyler Mikkelson, Henry Mooney, Daniela Razo, and Journey Wade-Hak. The supporting ensemble included: Maggie Angeles, Kayla Arnold, Angela Cummarusti, Sandra Hernandez, Khalil Lennon, Jacob Morgan, Ashley Pulido, Freya Randle-Helgesson, and Yesenia Sanchez.
The dialogue was formed around a series of questions including: “What inspires you?” “Why do you hate me?,” “Why don’t you like yourself?,” “How do you feel about the future?,” and “Is it OK to read a teen’s text messages?”
It felt intimate and personal even though the readings took place from the stage in a crowded auditorium. Teens told parents they drink too much and embarrass them, that they complain too much about the other parents, and that they miss having time to talk to a parent absent, whether physically or emotionally. There were tender moments too, like when a teen wrote no matter how depressed they got they always kept trying because their parents kept trying and kept caring. There were also readings delivered about the April stabbing of 16-year-old Seth Scarminach. Starting with free verse about the peaceful Ojai night sky that gave way to violence, students used words like terror, anger, despair, guilt.
Monologues told of facing violence, “that happens here.” Teens asking, “How did we get here?” and “How do you heal rage?”
Throughout the performance the dialogue came straight from the heart, at times sad and funny, at others scary and touching. At the end, I, for one, felt inspired. Inspired that 300 students trusted enough to be part of something bigger than themselves. Through their words, they reminded everyone in the audience how very precious and besieged, yet tough and resilient, each young adult can be.
Wall said it best in her closing remarks, thanking the audience and her readers. She closed her remarks by thanking, every teen who submitted anything, every spoken word, every monologue and bit of poetry. This is what made this script so incredible.”
According to Iwata, the evening is only the first in a series of events the Youth Foundation plans for the coming year as part of their outreach programs to valley youngsters and their parents. Iwata mentioned the upcoming return of the organization, Straight Up from Ventura, on Nov. 14.
To find out more or volunteer go online to ovyf.org or call 640-9555. And if you missed Thursday’s performance, take heart. Burrell announced the event was filmed by Jim McEachen and an eight-member student crew who will be submitting it to film festivals.