‘Second Chance’: A Message of Hope for Minority Teens


An unusually frank musical play, now touring some California secondary schools, is giving at-risk teen-agers in the Latino community and elsewhere a hopeful perspective on such adolescent stresses as peer pressure, gangs, prejudice and substance abuse.

Now in its second year, “Second Chance,” a rap-style, song-and-dance theater production from the Bilingual Foundation of the Arts’ Teatro Para Los Jovenes (Theatre for Young People), is performed by a professional multicultural cast. It is written and directed by Annette Cardona and Amy Weinstein, inspired by their backgrounds in theater and adolescent psychology and by input from teens.

“It’s about a boy named Jose who is struggling to become somebody in the face of overwhelming odds,” said Weinstein.


Jose’s problems are indeed overwhelming: an alcoholic father, a pregnant girlfriend, the loss of his sister in a drive-by shooting. “He is on the verge of committing suicide,” Weinstein said. “He doesn’t see his options or his choices. Through the play we use a metaphor, Jose’s other self, his hopeful side. The two of them battle it out to see . . . whether or not he deserves a second chance in life.”

While the show deals directly with issues facing Latinos in Los Angeles, “we tried to represent the combination of cultures in the schools,” Cardona said.

“I believe our strength is, aside from these in-your-face issues, that we use a great deal of humor and we don’t talk down to students,” Weinstein said. “We speak in a language that they can identify with to get a very important message across: ‘Believe in yourself no matter what you’re facing.’ ”

The play has booked more than 80 schools, but its content has led to at least one cancellation.

“I had a school in Reno that asked us to remove any mention of pregnancy, any mention of sex,” said Carmen Zapata, producing director of the Bilingual Foundation. (Condom use is discussed in one vignette.) “I said absolutely not . . . we need to let youngsters know there are ways to solve these problems; abstinence is not going to be the answer (for everyone).”

Another touchy scene deals with racial insensitivity among educators. “Many teachers, because of the problems they’ve been having, just assume minorities are going to be a problem,” Zapata said. Donald Dustin, director of performing arts for the Los Angeles Unified School District, who screened the show and offered advice in its early stages, said that “some teachers are not going to like a negative portrayal of a teacher” in the play, “but in fact” the issue is a valid one. He felt, too, that the pregnancy scene “was treated with taste. It’s a real issue and one that with a good teacher kids will use as a stepping off point to discuss it on their own.”


“I feel it’s really a healing piece for the kids,” Zapata said. “They can identify with it and begin to ask questions of their family and peers and seek out some help.”

Much of that help may come from IMPACT, a student assistance program for secondary schools in Los Angeles, federally funded under the Drug Free Schools and Community Act.

IMPACT provides counseling referrals and support for at-risk students and has made “Second Chance” part of its “mandatory student awareness component,” said adviser George Sarandos.

Sarandos is “extremely impressed” with the show. School site coordinators report that “the number of students who refer themselves for help because of drug dependency, gang involvement and other at-risk behavior generally increases significantly in the few days following the assembly. Obviously, it is hitting nerves.”

Each school is given a study guide prior to the show, written by IMPACT adviser Lee Saltz, to be reproduced for teachers’ use in the classroom both before and after viewing the show. Budget cuts mean, however, that “there’s not always paper available to make the copies,” Sarandos said, adding that overcrowding and “the anger level” among teachers due to pay cuts are other reasons teachers may not use the guide.

Without it, “Second Chance” still “increases kids’ awareness and faculty awareness,” Sarandos said. It’s vital, he added, “to focus on the issues and confront them, not hide from them.”

The play is funded by the Seaver Institute, Kraft General Foods Foundation, Kaiser Permanente, FHP Health Care, Anheuser Busch and the Equitable Foundation.