MAKING A DIFFERENCE : Theater as a Stage for Learning

Researched by CATHERINE GOTTLIEB / Los Angeles Times

Teen years can be times of high drama, but it’s frequently other than the literary kind: One in three 17-year-olds say they have never read a play. And even among those who have, it’s often “Romeo and Juliet” in English class, with too little understanding of how a play fits into theater history and how it goes from the page to the stage.

Among those trying to improve the situation is Theater as a Learning Tool, which has linked more than 60,000 students with the literary traditions of stage performances since 1983. The program, serving 27 school districts in Southern California, is the brainchild of lifelong Los Angeles resident Keren Goldberg, who developed it when she was education director for the now-darkened Los Angeles Theater Center and moved it to UCLA’s School of Theater, Film and Television two years ago. Students and teachers in the program are provided with carefully designed instructional materials to use before and after the performance and teachers attend theater workshops. The goal for everyone is to use the performance as a focus for learning in literature, history, art, music and language.

Here are excerpts from essays written by students at Montebello’s Schurr High School after they attended “The Art of Waiting” by Rob Shin, a play about the racial identity crisis of a young Korean-American man who dreams of becoming a stand-up comic:

“When I was young I played with my neighbor Monica. We were happy until we entered kindergarten. I was the only Asian kid. My friend would not play with me anymore.


“One day I saw her alone at the jungle (gym). She was there to see me but not to take me back. Her last words were ‘Stupid chino!’ Then it hit me, a gigantic kickball. It wasn’t my clothes, it wasn’t my hairstyle--well, partially it was, because of my bowl cut--it was that I was Chinese. I found that in difference there is no use to pretend that there is no separation between yellow and brown.”

Raymond Yau

“In response to the play, the word ‘racist’ has crossed my mind more than any other one. I must admit, I have at one time or another been racist. Saying that you are not a racist is not good enough anymore. People hinder the progress of humankind if they are refusing to learn and understand the cultures of others.”

Ann Tu


“The play depicted Asian and Afro-American stereotypes. Sure, I laughed at the jokes because they were funny, but would they have still been funny if they were about Mexicans? Hey now, wait a minute, now the joke’s on me, not on them.”

Ariel Favela


Vanessa Marquez, 25, Montebello


A junior at UCLA, she had a featured role in the movie “Stand and Deliver,” and has a regular role in “ER,” a show about a hospital emergency room produced by Steven Spielberg debuting on NBC this fall.

“It was the first time I saw professional actors on stage, and it changed my life. I was 16. The program exposed me not only to going to the theater, it got me to read a lot more--especially plays. I wanted to know more about playwrights and playwrighting and the history of theater. Their productions use non-traditional casting. When you see someone else on stage who’s black or Asian or Latino or handicapped you see that the door has been opened for them, and it can be opened to you.”


17-year olds who say they’ve read:


Plays: 66%

Science books: 76%

Books about other places: 81%

Poems: 82%


Source: U.S. Department of Education


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