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'The More You Know' (the more critics love you) 

Why 'It's educational' is a terrible excuse not to see Teen Monologues

Teen Monologues is not a required course. Nor is it a news flash, a speech, or a television commercial. So when I tell you that you have to see Teen Monologues—which could technically be labeled with one of America’s most feared phrases, the “Public Service Announcement”—I mean it not in a totalitarian do-this-or-die way, but rather in the excited-moviegoer-telling-his-friends way.

Please, see this show.

click to enlarge MORE THAN THE USUAL ANGST :  Redzuan Abdul Rahim’s character (center) has difficulty facing facts. - PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • MORE THAN THE USUAL ANGST : Redzuan Abdul Rahim’s character (center) has difficulty facing facts.

Teen Monologues is a local play concerning the hardships of teen pregnancy, with a script assembled from actual conversations with actual people who’ve actually been through it. There are no stupid, monotone statistics here. Instead, there is a sort of overall story with characters. When statistics come up, they serve their original purpose: to prove a point, rather than become fodder for future textbooks or math problems. Decidedly negative connotation aside, PSA doesn’t even fit the performance—and that’s because it’s not an announcement. There is no town crier who makes his spiel and then leaves to allow everyone the luxury of returning to their daily lives.

Michelle Hansen, an actor in the play, says it best: “The difference between acting here and acting in a ‘normal’ play is that there’s no fourth wall. You look into [the audience’s] eyes, which makes the whole thing much easier to convey.” And she’s right. A character at one point is asking the others questions that seem indecent and unrealistic. The other characters leave, but he keeps asking questions—now at you, the audience. And that’s when I stopped thinking of him as a character. A freaky realization came over me: Indeed, some people must behave like this. It’s one thing to overhear a conversation from the comfort of your chair, but quite another to be asked the question yourself. And effectiveness is key in an educational setting.

To keep the content relevant, the script is revised annually by a recruited group of youth writers and staff members. Francine Levin, prevention and health education supervisor for CAPSLO Health Services, produces the show and created it in 2003.

“I saw the Vagina Monologues.” Levin explained, “and loved the idea of community research through theater.”

click to enlarge NOT MY FAULT :  Monty Renfrow (right) makes the most of an unsettling monologue. - PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • NOT MY FAULT : Monty Renfrow (right) makes the most of an unsettling monologue.

She took that idea, connected it with her own mission statement, and then brought the resulting concept to youth, who took to the idea at once. Of script revision, she said, “We recall things that didn’t work as well [the previous year], and look at what needs to be updated.” She laughed as she described how “sometimes you find a line that’s really corny and/or doesn’t even make sense anymore.” The play is in its ninth year, so the process must be working.

As for opposition to the content, Levin said it’s never really a problem.

“Schools are generally busy, so that’s all that prevents them from not taking the offer,” she explained. “And parent reaction every year is powered. They’re always like, ‘You’ve got to do this at my school’ … and [they] remark on how powerful the production was.”

 I saw all this firsthand. While interviewing the actors, I ran into my elementary school nurse and her friend. Maureen Mcgee (“Nurse Mo”) and Michelle Brooks saw the show last year and thought to themselves, “We could do this.” As nurses, they’ve dealt with teen pregnancy before and wanted to educate the community about it.

- EFFECTIVE EDU-TAINMENT: - Teen Monologues come to the SLO Little Theatre, 888 Morro St. in SLO, on April 1. A dessert reception is at 7 p.m., and the performance itself is at 8 p.m. Students pay $5; adults pay $10. -
  • EFFECTIVE EDU-TAINMENT: Teen Monologues come to the SLO Little Theatre, 888 Morro St. in SLO, on April 1. A dessert reception is at 7 p.m., and the performance itself is at 8 p.m. Students pay $5; adults pay $10.

Actor and CAPSLO Health Education Outreach Coordinator Redzuan Abdul Rahim was inspired by the performance in a different way. While studying theater at Cal Poly, he was interested in performing for a purpose. Although he felt too old for a teen role, he was, to his surprise, chosen for a role last year. Near the end of that run, Levin suggested he work for the Outreach program. Though surprised at first, Redzuan accepted, and he’s now able to help more people than the show alone. He’s in the performance again this year, and, like the other actors, doesn’t fail to impress. The performances are fantastic, with each talented actor making the most of his or her speech or soliloquy. These performances truly make the show into more than just a pamphlet, and they help Teen Monologues shine brightly in a society where other attempts to help inform the masses fall flat on their well-intentioned faces.

Intern Chris White-Sanborn has some public service he’d like to announce. Remind him of his place by sending comments to Arts Editor Anna Weltner at aweltner@newtimesslo.com.

 

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