The American Repertory Theater Begins Its Theater Journey with Malden High School

The American Repertory Theater (ART) has given Malden High School students the chance to enjoy some of their new plays and musicals as well as create new experiences for the next five months with their new program.

Jennifer Clapp, an English teacher at Malden High School, is hosting the program with Jean Jones, a math teacher. Clapp explained that “this program is brand new this year. It was something that the ART just started doing; it’s the first year it existed.”

“It was actually a grant that Leanne DeRosa and Gerard Tannetta applied for last year; and then when Derosa left this year, Tannetta asked if I would take on the organizing side of it because I used to be a theater teacher and I kind of know how everything works in the district. Even though it would usually be a drama teacher doing it, we decided with Ariana Messana being brand new this year that we would give her a break on that stuff,” said Clapp.

They are both excited to begin the program as “it’s just an amazing opportunity to get to go see really high quality, really expensive theater for nothing,” Clapp said.

“To get the VIP treatment with the before and after workshops, and the bus, and dinner, and the workshop at the theater, and you get to see these shows that are pretty expensive to go to at night…it’s a really great opportunity to get to see something that I’m excited about for me personally, not just for the students but I think it’s awesome,” explained Clapp.

Clapp and Jones both share a love for theater despite the differences between their respective subjects they teach. “I love theater! Even though I’m a math teacher, at my previous job I was an English language arts theater teacher and, historically, I’ve always enjoyed theater. So, for me the chance to see it for free is really cool,” described Jones.

 “It’s always been a big part of my life at Malden High School so even if I can’t do it full time, being able to support it and make sure that kids were getting lots of opportunities. That’s really important to me”

Jennifer CLapp

Clapp also explained her theater journey as she “was a drama teacher for ten years. I created Play Production [at Malden High School]; it’s always been a big part of my life at Malden High School so even if I can’t do it full time, being able to support it and make sure that kids were getting lots of opportunities. That’s really important to me.”

Students were informed of this program through their English teachers and could sign up through a Google Form linked in the classroom. Those who were accepted would have their first meeting together on November 15th in the form of a joy block. These first few joy blocks consisted of watching the 2002 film “Real Women Have Curves,” which would be the first musical the ART program would be showing to the students.

After the students finished the movie, Leah Harris and Vahdat Yaganeh, the two ART program advisors, came to Malden High School to do some workshops with the students on November 29th.

Harris is the artistic associate and community at ART, and Yaganeh there is the learning lead Theater. Harris describes her love for this program because “it was the first program that kind of gave me a job after I graduated college which was important and it was the program that really started my career so it means a lot to me and I think the opportunity to bridge my career and the humanities is really important especially at a time like this so that mix feels really necessary right now.”

Yaganeh added that he “personally also loves the opportunity of bringing theater to a community and making it accessible for more students.” He also mentioned that “this is the first time I’m working with this program with Leah so one I am very curious to learn more about that but also I love theater, it’s my passion, and finding different ways to use theater to apply in our real lives it’s something that is very meaningful to me with this program.”

“They helped me see deeper into myself because they made me realize how hard it is to become someone you are” 

Derek Lam

Harris and Yaganeh introduced deeper ideas and activities in order to help students understand the musical “Real Women Have Curves” and the story of Ana Garcia. They got to experience some of her thoughts, feelings, and emotions that will be portrayed in the musical as well as getting to connect with her story. Junior Derek Lam, one of the students who participated in these activities stated that “they helped me see deeper into myself because they made me realize how hard it is to become someone you are.”

Many students agreed with the sentiments expressed by Lam. “The activities helped me come out of my comfort zone since everyone was doing them, it made me not feel alone,” Lam added.

“I personally prefer individual work, but during the activities, I was able to talk to people I don’t normally talk to and connect with them,” said Junior Neyonca Honore. She was also able to see deeper into herself as the “activities did help me understand and connect to Ana because they were all focused on her struggles and how she was trying to tell her mom about her dreams of going to college while being dragged down and forced to work for her sister because ‘that’s what family does,’” said Honore.

Lam’s favorite activity was the bean bag activity as it helped him to “realize how hard it was for Ana to juggle school and work at the same time but also having the stress of trying to be the perfect daughter for her mom.”

“I think ultimately we hope that these plays and the activities and the workshops help students form a better sense of self meaning you know who they are in relationship to their school communities, at home, their communities at large, I hope that we’re able to, through all the workshops that we’re doing and the conversations, that you’re able to build a muscle for empathy but also a better sense of self and who you are in life,” said Harris.

Clapp also explained that she hopes students “both get a chance to see themselves on stage in some representation. I feel like it’s a good and interesting group of plays that is going to have a little something for everybody but I also hope they come out feeling like they had a window into a world they didn’t know, something different.”

“Even if it’s just the world of people in Cambridge who go to plays at night, that might be a whole different experience for a lot of different people…hopefully they’ll feel like they can continue to see shows even when it’s not supported by the school or supported by the ART like ‘Yeah I could just go see a play on a Friday night,’ and it doesn’t have to be a field trip, it doesn’t have to be an exercise, it could just be a Friday night out,” Clapp said.

Jones also added that she wants “students to take away the fact that theater can enrich our lives more than we think. It’s not just about music, it’s not just about acting, but there’s a lot of storylines that can reflect our current lives and a lot of times there are characters that can reflect either our lives or the lives of the people around us. So I think seeing theater can help people to understand humanity and learn about people in a better way than everyday interactions can.”

The ART program had its first showing of “Real Women Have Curves” on December 12th and it was nothing like anyone was expecting. Students and staff alike were amazed at the performance.

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