Six-word memoirs by youth who were ‘Pushed’Fourteen-year-old Athan is appearing in a play — but he isn’t entirely acting. A student at Woodland Hills, he’s a co-author of PUSHED, a production based in part on his own experiences.
Fourteen-year-old Athan is appearing in a play — but he isn’t entirely acting. A student at Woodland Hills, he’s a co-author of PUSHED, a production based in part on his own experiences.
“I made my part, so I know how to act it,” Athan told the Budgeteer (the students’ last names have been withheld at the request of the agency).
Each student created a six-word memoir relating to his or her character in the play. “Mine was ‘took the oath of a gangster,’” said Athan, an 8th-grader.
Woodland Hills is a residential treatment center in Duluth serving youth with behavioral, emotional, chemical and mental health needs. Even though the script was written by youth, the show is intended for mature audiences due to the language and content — real-life stories of the students.
About 50 Woodland Hills students are involved in the production (the full title is “PUSHED: Discover Decisions to Change Your Mind”). Director and teaching artist Angie Frank has been working with them for about two months to develop the script and guide their performance.
“I go in and do different theater activities with the students. Through the activities, we identify situations where the students have felt powerless. We use these scenarios to craft the script,” said Frank.
This is the third time Frank has worked with Woodland Hills students to create their own production. Past productions include “73 Sides to the Story” and “Gr8ful for Another Day.” Both productions explored the topic of teen violence.
This time, the theme is bullying, which Frank describes as “a situation where someone uses power to harm or control another person.”
She says she wants the students to use their own voice to tell the stories, so she tries to stay out of the process.
“I simply give them the tools to craft the story. This is a unique opportunity to hear what they want to say.”
The students were split into four groups to create four unique stories. Themes include a classic bullying scenario, an abusive stepfather-stepson relationship and the feeling of being powerless. Each character is “pushed” into a scenario from which it is difficult to escape.
The six-word memoir was one of many theater activities facilitated by Frank to encourage the students to open up and act like themselves.
Desente is another actor. His six-word memoir is “a young man doing grown-man things.”
“It’s pretty much like a collection of what we’ve been through,” he said. “Half of the boys from our group are from the Cities, so we wrote about our actual life that happens in the Cities.”
He said he wants the community to come see the show so they can understand where young men are coming from.
The biggest problem with today’s youth, according to Desente, is that teens listen too much to rappers and other media who tell them that the best way to live their lives is by shooting or selling drugs.
The play will be performed at the Underground Theater at 506 W. Michigan St. on Monday and Tuesday, Nov. 25 and 26 at 7 p.m. A donation of $5 at the door is suggested, as well as a reservation. A reception for both the students and audience will follow each performance. Call 218-728-7500, ext. 175 or email theatre@woodlandhills. org to make a reservation.
Woodland Hills is a private nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering, healing and teaching responsibility to children and adolescents from throughout Minnesota. PUSHED is made possible by a grant provided by the Minnesota State Arts Board, through an appropriation by the Minnesota State Legislature from the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund with money from the vote of the people of Minnesota on November 4, 2008.