Center Theatre Group hosted a teen youth summit for high school students on May 4. Students had the opportunity to participate in workshops, interview American playwright David Henry Hwang, and watch the premiere of Hwang’s latest play, “Soft Power” at the Ahmanson Theatre.
High school leaders helped organize the event. They were responsible for workshops and different activities, such as a social media wall and a map of the United States, titled “What does it mean to be American?” Students could write their answers below.
“I wanted something where people could come on and have a question that could stir their minds and express their opinions. It ties into our theme and the play,” Gabrielino High School senior Pattaranan Pookoom said. “I’m hoping that they will take away that they have a voice in this community and they have a voice to change things. They’re pretty much the next step to changing art and anything they want to.”
There were three different workshops that students could choose from: 1) What’s Your Story?, 2) What’s Our Future?, 3) Cultural Appreciation vs. Appropriation.
What’s Your Story?
In this workshop, led by several student ambassadors, including Yaya Gomez, a senior at Roosevelt High, students learned how to tell our own stories in the modern age. They encouraged participants to create change by telling their own stories within their schools and beyond.
“I really hope that they found their voice in who they want to be. I hope they share their experiences and how it’s going to help others in the future,” Gomez said. “I feel like it’s important to share your own voice because a lot of the time, we’re shut away and if you could share your voice at least once, you did something to make a change in everyday life.”
After a quick icebreaker, students shared who they are and why they like art in forms such as a tweet and a haiku. They also had the opportunity to learn how to craft public comments to create change in their own school district.
What’s Our Future?
Led by student ambassador Vic Brown and playwriting director Gina Young, this workshops discussed the student’s hopes, dreams, and fears. Through two minute skits in small groups of three to four, students expressed their vision of future America through theatre.
“I think that [this] generation is going to change the world for the better. I feel like these are our future art leaders in Los Angeles,” Young said. “The one fear I heard the most today was people saying ‘I want to work in the arts but I don’t know how I’m going to make it,’ and that’s what this group is going to figure out and do.”
Cultural Appreciation vs. Appropriation
During the workshop, students were told to congregate into different areas of the room based on their ancestral heritage. Within those groups, they were encouraged to discuss culture and its relation to their own personal entity.
As students returned to their seats, an open seminar on cultural appreciation was targeted and analyzed amongst all participants the room. Students found examples in their own lives and discovered how to correctly address it.
“Finding out the difference between appropriation and appreciation is definitely a step forward to helping de-stigmatize people of color in the media, which I think is really important,” Vice Farley, a senior from Ramon C. Cortines School of Vapa, said. “That’s the one thing that unifies America, the media, which is unfortunate because it often portrays people in a very negative way. This [workshop] is a good step forward into breaking this down.”
After the workshops, there was a Q&A with playwright David Henry Hwang. Students were given the opportunity to ask Hwang questions. Touching upon various topics, students received a better understanding of “Soft Power” and opened the door to other progressive discussions.
Defining the term “soft power,” Hwang stated, ”It is the ability to influence the world through our ideas and culture.” When asked if he ever had doubts about his play, Hwang replied, “If you are going to create your own form of art, you are exposing something about yourself. There is always a moment when you think you cannot do it. The most important thing is to hold onto that part of yourself that wanted to make it. Sometimes it will not work out, but that is absolutely ok. If you do not fail every now and then, you aren’t working hard enough.”
In her question, another student was targeting the recent gun violence in America and inquired Hwang’s personal opinion. “My whole life, we have been trying to find a way to address [it],” Hwang stated. “A bunch of high school students have moved the debate more than I have seen most do in my lifetime. [Your] voices have the power to create change.”
The night ended with students watching the production of “Soft Power” at the Ahmanson Theatre.
Eddie Rosato, a senior at Star Prep Academy said, ”The summit was a cool opportunity. I saw a lot of different perspectives from a lot of different teenagers. It was a great experience.”
“Soft Power” is directed by Leigh Silverman and choreographed by Sam Pinkleton, and runs through June 10. For tickets and information, please visit CenterTheatreGroup.org or call (213) 972-4400. Media Contact: CTGMedia@CTGLA.org / (213) 972-7376.