"Arrested 48 times . . . Future don't exist . . .Don't ask me about my personal stories, because they all have the same ending . . . One soul lost, two weeks ago this Friday, last seen hitchhiking to Flagstaff. If found, please return to this school of schools . . ." Actor Willa Eigo (Arizona Pastorela: Mission to Mars) hesitates for a moment. "Can I just say 'this school' instead of 'this school of schools'?"
A production staffer calls back to the stage, "Okay. It's supposed to be 'this school.' That's a typo."
"Please return to this school," Eigo continues her character's monologue, "located somewhere between childhood and adulthood."
See also: PHX:fringe Week 2: Homeless Young People Serve Food for Thought
Young people confined by the juvenile justice system to a corrections facility (where they must also receive an education) were brave enough to share their stories with Rising Youth Theatre this fall, and professional actors and other artists have been working alongside two casts -- one made up of incarcerated kids and the other, of young actors on the outside -- to present the resulting play, aDoBe, by José Casas. The show's première is offered to the public this weekend only at Phoenix Center for the Arts, Third and Moreland Streets.
At Wednesday evening's technical rehearsal, the ensemble's fine-tuning a few sticky moments under the direction of Rising Youth co-founder Xanthia Angel Walker (who also directed Woman and Girl). They struggle to stay focused on recent script and blocking changes while lights go on and off, techs zip together last-minute scenic elements with power tools, and a huge aluminum ladder co-opts part of the stage.
Rising Youth was formed two years ago to work with youth and artists in the community to create theater that comes directly from the true stories of young people. The company, which received the first Phoenix Mayor's Arts Award last December, believes in increased access to the arts (for both practitioners and audiences) and also that, as the statement of core values on the website explains, "youth deserve to see themselves, their values and their experiences reflected onstage in making great art."
Often, the performers in the resulting shows are the people whose lives are depicted by the script, but kids in jail can't just check out for the weekend for a gig. Along with the actors, the duties of assistant designers, stage managers, stagehands and tech operators, and other production roles are also performed by young theater-loving folk. Against a realistically bleak set of chain link, sealed packed boxes, and harsh light, the cast portrays real people whose identities have been combined and blurred for their own privacy and safety. The detained teens wax rapturous about foods they miss (except for one kid who's grateful that at least he gets fed in jail), memories of the fun and freedom of being able to drive a car, and the artistic expression of their tattoos.
They mourn more innocent times, missing loved ones, and the loss of individuality in the homogenized institutional wardrobe of beltless khakis, matching Ts, and laceless shoes. One boy describes making dice out of wadded toilet paper dotted with blueberry juice to shoot craps.
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It's not a fun play, and many segments feature profanity and frightening, unpleasant incidents, but the combination of unvarnished truth and professional production values make it an interesting watch. In both life and art, it's rare and meaningful to snag an opportunity to hear the thoughts and perspectives of people who either don't want to tell you about themselves or are prevented from doing so.
You might imagine that the experiences and motivations of these jailed children, who too rarely prevail, flourish, and succeed against great odds, are mysterious and very different from yours. Maybe they aren't. Here's a way to learn firsthand.
aDoBe will be presented at 7 p.m. Friday, November 22, through Sunday, November 24, at 1202 North Third Street. It's suitable for audiences 14 and older. You may pay what you can at the door or purchase $10 tickets in advance here. You can call Phoenix Center for the Arts, 602-254-3100, if you have any questions.