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The Central Coast is truly home to an immense amount of talent. Earlier this semester, I had the privilege of attending a work of theater at Cuesta College that took my breath away. It was stunning and heartfelt, full of wonderful performances by local students and fantastic choreography. Scenes moved from one to another like in sweeping transitions that gave the play an electric, kinetic feel.

That play was pool ’63, and it was already, by itself, notable for a great many reasons. For one thing, it was not the result of use of a script from some vast, if rich catalog of them. The script was assembled through collaboration and heavy research by the director, bree valle (who spells her name without capitalization because using “Z”s instead of “S”s is so ’90s), her husband, playwright Phillip Valle, and the students themselves. The play itself deals with civil unrest on account of racial inequality in Alabama in 1963, and to help ensure the resulting production was authentic, students not only dug deep into textbooks and databases for as much information as they could find, but attempted to live and breathe what it might have been like for a time, for example, by attending a church specializing in moving gospel music (an experience which made its way into the show in a wonderful moment in which a preacher addresses the audience as if it is the congregation, encouraging them to sing along in a hymn).

Another way in the play was notable is that it was brought back for a second run. Often, in the theater department of a high school or college, after a production has been completed, no matter how elaborate, it’s off to planning the next one, to promote new learning experiences for the students and, to an extent, to keep the lineup fresh for those in the community or even in the college but not in the department. However, pool ’63 was invited to participate in the 46th annual Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival, a prestigious festival in which Cuesta had not even applied to participate to begin with.

But through word of mouth, the sold-out performances of the first run attracted an adjudicator from the festival to fly in from Los Angeles to experience the piece firsthand. Cuesta was encouraged to attend the festival, and after having done so, I am proud to say that pool ’63 has been recognized with five national awards from the competition.

“These are the most prestigious awards given to a university or college theatre department in the country,” valle, who will be traveling to Washington, D.C., in mid-April, said. “We are incredibly surprised and proud.” Many, many congratulations to the pool ’63 team.



Intern Chris White-Sanborn hopes to make a splash in theater some day. Send your collegiate news to cougarsandmustangs@newtimesslo.com.

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