Reseda : Students Dramatize Their Differences

Confronting their racial, ethnic, gender and sexual-orientation differences head-on wasn't always easy for the 20 or so Cleveland humanities magnet students who took a class in Interdisciplinary Theater Exchange.

So the Cleveland High School 11th-graders made a production out of it--a theatrical production, that is.

Guided by professional artists and human-relations trainers from the National Conference, they parlayed their human-relations training, research into the history of oppression and role-playing into a dramatic political farce about immigration called "The Relocation Game: How Bad Do You Want to Be an American?"

But they took the experience in stride, practically downplaying what they created.

"I've gotten a lot closer to the people here," Chris Ewald, 16, said. "We talk about race and gender a lot. We're like a family now."

"The Relocation Game" was written by outside director Brian Joseph based on the students' research. It follows a modern Chinese family's attempt to immigrate to the United States. The Chen family learns painfully and humorously of historical struggles that mimic their travails.

Program director Dani Bedau, a Cleveland alumna herself, said the project tests the bounds of diversity through theater. "In the '70s and '80s, the whole idea was that if you got a diverse group of kids in the same school--by desegregation--they'll deal with each other," Bedau explained. "But, if you grew up in Los Angeles, you know that doesn't always happen."

So Bedau uses theater to bring diverse groups of students together.

At a recent rehearsal, it was evident that her strategy has worked at Cleveland High's humanities magnet as the assembled students laughed, embraced and hammed it up on stage.

The journey of creating the play has been public and personal for some.

"I've gotten a lot out of the play," said Kailynn Chiou, 16. "I've dropped my boundaries."

The actors will perform the play three times for Cleveland schoolmates and will also take the show on the road to CalArts in Valencia and to Venice High School. There will be free public performances of "The Relocation Game" at 8 p.m. Saturday and Jan. 20 in Cleveland High's multipurpose room, 8140 Vanalden Ave. A student-led discussion session will follow each show.

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