For State of the Arts this week, I talked to Ruben Carrazana and Stephanie Cleghorn Jasso. (You can click above to listen to our conversation, which also aired on KERA FM.) The two have a long background in theater around North Texas. They’re both actors who’ve performed with companies from The Undermain to Cara Mia. Carrazana also directs and Jasso is especially interested in arts education.
Usually, a play is produced by a theater company – they’re a lot of work to get off the ground, after all. But when they read the script for “Stand-Up Tragedy,” Jasso and Carrazana decided to team up with Jeff Colangelo to produce it themselves.
Here are couple of reasons why their version of the play is noteworthy.
1. It’s the first time that two of the city’s cultural centers have come together to produce something from the ground up.
Usually, the cultural centers act as venues for theater companies. But Carrazana and Jasso have relationships with both the Oak Cliff Cultural Center and the Latino Cultural Center, and the two centers were enthusiastic about the project and willing to support it.
2. It’s unusual to have high school kids acting in this show.
“‘Stand-Up Tragedy’ takes place at this Catholic school on the lower east side of Manhattan, and most of these students are black or Latino and statistically, many of these students won’t graduate,” says Carrazana.
“It follows this young kid, straight out of college, who thinks that he’s going to change the system, so he takes one of these kids under his wing and takes unconventional methods to make sure this kid graduates,” says Carrazana. “He’s a teacher. And that in many ways is a story that’s been told many times. A white teacher goes into the inner city, takes a brown kid under his wing and he’s going to fix the country’s educational system. But it’s never been told this way.”
The play was written by Bill Cain, a Jesuit priest. Usually, adults play the roles of the teachers and the students. And there are professional adult actors in this performance. But there are also nine high school students from around North Texas participating.
“This is a story that is very theatrical and it’s full of adrenaline and humor,” says Carrazana. “And it seemed like a great opportunity to share this story with students. And so we thought that it was really important for them to be a part of this story because, in many ways, it is their story.”
3. The students are getting paid to perform.
Carrazana and Jasso wanted the production to be as close to a professional one as possible. The students also got free DART passes if they needed help with transportation. And there was a month of free acting classes – four nights a week. It was a big commitment.
“We have some amazing students,” says Jasso. “They were coming from all over. So it was a long trek to either ride the DART or have mom drop them off. Same thing with the rehearsal process. They have been there with the professional actors until 10 o’clock when we’re ready to let them go.
4. Not all the student actors want to go into theater.
Some of them do theater at school, others go to schools that don’t have theater programs.
“For a lot of them, theater isn’t necessarily something they want to do when they grow up, but it’s something that provides them with a sense of confidence, for right now,” says Carrazana.
There are other benefits, Jasso says.
“So we have some students who talk openly about how they have obstacles they are dealing with, whether that be anger issues, or they have a hard time focusing when they’re at school, they have issues at home. This has been a good way for them to deal with those issues in a creative and safe way.”
5. It’s a rare community-based project, and Jasso and Carranza think that’s important.
Carrazana: “There are certain communities where the arts, and theater specifically, are more accessible. And there are other communities where it’s not as accessible. So many arts organizations talk about what communities need or what communities want. If you have the community in the rehearsal room, that dialogue immediately happens. So I think that’s one of the reasons this sort of work is very important.”
Jasso: “We are all craving opportunities to unite and to make a difference in this community. And I think this is a way that we can say let’s do this show together, let’s invite an audience and come spend an evening together where we can experience hurt and pain and sadness, but joy and we can celebrate the victories and we can have a night to heal together. And what a beautiful way to bring everybody together and to do that.