P.O. Box 270507
Houston, TX 77277
In June of 2008, The Masque of the Red Death was seen at the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Houston. This is a piece I directed for the Harris Co. Dept. of Ed. with Intermediate school kids from Klentzman in Alief ISD. I originally did this piece for Main St. Theatre's Summer Theatre Camp in 2001. Having just 7 two hour sessions to complete it in, the young actors were "totally cool" and did their best with a complicated group mime piece. We even took a week off, as I was in Chicago for the Illinois Highland games with my band, Tartanic.
For those of you who may not remember the Edgar Allen Poe story from grade school, Prince Prospero invites 1000 of his high society friends to his palace. The doors are locked, and our guests enjoy their time while they attempt to wait out a terrible disease that is ravaging the countryside. Even though Poe wrote this in 1842, probably influenced by the Plague and Cholera epidemics of his time, the disease itself is really more like the Ebola virus (not discovered until 1976 in Central Africa). Below is the opening paragraph to the short story:
This sort of story is not a typical choice for Kid's Day at the Hobby Center for the Perfoming Arts in downtown Houston, TX. As our group was the only one assigned to "Drama" that's what we chose to deliver. While other groups presented wonderful dances, a "drum circle" featuring many African percussion instruments, Capoiera and elaborate shadow puppets enacting multiple elements of a circus; the audience (and the cameraman that gave me his footage from a major television station--I am not allowed to disclose) was mesmerized and granted us loud and sincere applause after our piece. We utilized lighting, costume, makeup, music, movement, props and characters--all of the elements one would expect under the heading of "Drama."
Adrian Walter and Epig Dominguez continued their Drama Program at Sherman Elementary for the Spring of 2008. The production was La Historia del Mundo en Quince Minutos (The History of the World in Fifteen Minutes), a new bilingual (English/Spanish) study in history, dance, theatre and music. The play was written and directed by Adrian Walter and Epig Dominguez and features the history of the world from the Big Bang and other creation theories, tracing the immigration of humanity through the ages, celebrating human achievement with the “Top Ten Greatest Inventions of All Time,” and ending with humanity’s greatest accomplishment: the ability to learn, create and make choices for a better world in the future. The students at Sherman, used to the original works and adaptations from both Adrian and Epig over the past 5 years, were eager to tackle such a fast-paced, humor-laced show. This sort of production was a bit of a departure from previous shows:
El Mago De Oz (The Wizard of Oz) - 2007
Snow White and the Cool Dwarves - 2007
El Circo Loco - 2006
A Christmas Carol - 2006
La Leyenda de Popacatepetl (The Legend of Popocatepetl) - 2005
I Learned My Lesson - 2005
Crash Party - 2004
While in residency at Shadydale Elementary, Adrian directed his students in just three weeks; a performance of highlights from Y. A. Bagersh’s African Delight. In this adaptation, a theatrical journey through Togo, Kenya, South Africa, and Sierra Leone using song, story theatre and dance with students performing as musicians on African percussion instruments was seen. The final performance for Shadydale Elementary, which has a 99% African-American enrollment, was presented at the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Houston, Texas.
Also in the same Hobby Center for the Performing Arts showcase, made possible by grants from the Harris County Department of Education, was the third production of Epig Dominguez’s play I Learned My Lesson,” in which a group of cheerleaders steal answers to a test to achieve their privilege to go to a regional competition. The summer drama group from Amigos Por Vida “juegen la papel” (were in character) all the way to much applause for their approach to their traditional theatrical presentation only utilizing chairs and a few props for the scene.
Sherman Elementary has hosted the prestigious Alley Theatre's DramaKids (After-school Drama) program for four years (2002-2005), and continued with the same pair of bilingual (English/Spanish) instructors under Express Theatre and Somos Todos Grupo del Teatro in the 2006-7, 2007-8 school years. Each year, the value of the program witnessed great success as marked by the growing number of children signing up, the increase in academic class participation from the children, the growth in personal esteem that is generated from writing, rehearsing and performing a formal theatrical production in front of all their peers and teachers. The founding instructors, with financial assistance from the Harris County Department of Education, continue this model program with Sherman Elementary and their 21st Century Program. To date, Adrian Walter and Epig Dominguez have continued their performance-based theatre arts education programs with the support of $50,000 over the past two years.
If a school has no arts enrichment programming save band or such, which may not be an onsite service, a legacy of arts education in theatre has enabled students to: gain confidence and poise in expressing themselves; develop critical-thinking skills; develop skills that improve comprehensive memory and recall; understand and appreciate theatre; explore creativity and imagination; develop body and spatial awareness through rhythmic and expressive movement; imitate life experiences and ideas through dramatic play and movement plus relate theatre to real life; enjoy performing for peers in class, and for friends, family, and classmates in a short presentation; and learn to work as a part of an ensemble.*
As the ethnicity of students at Sherman Elementary is 99% Hispanic, it serves a mix of families that speak Spanish at home, and those who do not. While the percentage is higher for those students who are bilingual, the needs of those without Spanish skills or without English skills are aided and served by this bilingual esteem-enriching program. With the clear objective of a student-run theatrical production, students are engaged, involved, enthusiastically pushing the edge of their perceived abilities and publicly proud of their achievements.
This programming promotes the same quality of excellence gained by a full-time drama program which Sherman Elementary does not currently offer. The relationships built on a student-to-student level expand the resources of communication, learning skills and tolerance of each others’ differences. At the student-to-Teaching Artist level, the relationship promotes listening and respect for authority in a creative environment. Through the resources provided by the school, including but not limited to stage space, lights and sound and art supplies, the students gain a sense of pride in a space that is viewed as a meeting room and cafeteria as it transforms to another world as a performance space and showcase for their talents. This transformation has proved extremely popular for over five years as a successful after-school endeavor.
In the scope of theatrical production, parents are encouraged to aid their children in the memorization of lines, providing a valuable asset to not only the performance, but to the parent’s involvement in the production process. Costume pieces (such as shoes, shirts, and pants) are usually kept simple and are provided by the parents without incurring any out-of-pocket expense (i.e., casual clothing or more formalwear that falls outside the school’s uniform policies). The community is involved serving the important role of audience to the culminating event (performance) which is advertised by the school’s outdoor marquee, utilization of paper flyers and programs (both reproduction and distribution), inclusion of activities in the school’s newsletter, newspaper and website. In addition to the administrative staff, the usually unsung heroes of the janitorial staff help maintain a clean and safe performance environment in any multi-purpose facility.
The staff is has been comprised of Adrian Walter and Epig Dominguez who are both working theatre professionals. For the past 6 years, originally under the Alley Theatre’s programming with Project G.R.A.D. in 2002, and later in conjunction with Express Theatre (Houston’s largest children’s theatre) and Somos Todos Grupo del Teatro; both teaching artists have supplied quality education programs to River Oaks Elementary, Wharton Elementary, Marshall Middle School, Ryan Elementary, Stevenson Elementary and Amigos Por Vida. As trained professionals, all aspects of theatrical production will be completed by the Teaching Artists and students. These include stage management (running of lights/sound), scriptwriting, costumes, makeup and set design and construction. Both Mr. Walter and Ms. Dominguez have graced Houston’s most respected performance venues such as The Alley Theatre, Stages Repertory Theatre, The Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, Talento Bilingue Houston, DiverseWorks as well as work for film and television and national performance tours across the United States.
*All students observe the safety policies in place at each school. This includes the capacity to accommodate both emergency situations (fire, serious injury) and safety maintenance (floors swept, kept clear of all liquids and debris) in the schools workspace. Even in set construction, no hazardous materials are used, and students are supervised in all activities leading up to and including the culminating event (performance).