Theater Group

By Ifeanyi Chijindu

The National Endowment for the Arts bestowed a grant for $10,000
to Cal Poly Pomona’s Peer Theater Group to assist the expansion of
the program in an effort to reach a greater number of Pomona
teenagers.

The theater group’s collaborative efforts will not only benefit
high school students, but Cal Poly Pomona students as well.

The Dean of the College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences,
Barbara Way, along with fellow fundraiser, Lisa Nashua, wrote a
grant proposal for CLASS and a few others, but the Peer Theater
Group proposal secured the attention of the NEA.

“The stipulation of the grant was for us to grow the program,”
said Bernardo Solano, Cal Poly Pomona Theater instructor. “This
means supplementing the program to reach more students.”

One of the numerous ways Cal Poly drama students, whom Solano
says “run the program with me,” assist the program is by the
recruitment of more high school students into the theater
group.

A stipend made possible by this grant, acknowledges and rewards
the participation and hard work of the Cal Poly Pomona theater
students.

Six years ago, this program came into existence as a way of
bringing high school and college theater students together in a
learning environment where dramatic theory becomes practice with
“hands on” experience.

The class is a three-part series, starting with the development
of the play and moves toward the final production.

The students study in class for one day a week and spend the
rest of the week at the Cal Poly Downtown Center working on their
craft. The purpose is to urge students into applying their book
knowledge in reality.

A high school student needs only two requirements to join this
theater group: an interest in drama and they must be a student
within the Pomona Unified School District.

The Cal Poly Pomona drama students mentor the high school
students while Solano oversees the entire project as a “producer or
artistic director.”

Through their mentoring, Cal Poly students not only utilize
their acting skills, but they develop the upper level managerial
skills needed to run an entire theater company by using the Cal
Poly Peer Theater Group as a testing ground.

This is especially important if a Cal Poly theater student’s
interest lean towards education.

“The (Cal Poly) students learn to run an after school program
from this model which is one of many,” says Solano. “Each one of my
students has a number of [high school] students and materials to
supervise. They’re like a director in that aspect.”

Four Cal Poly students run this group with about 30 Pomona
Unified students.

While Cal Poly Pomona drama undergraduates use the experience of
guiding their apprentices to become better actors, teachers and/or
directors themselves, the peer group provides high school students
with one of the ultimate forms of self expression: creating a play
of their own imagination.

These plays tend to focus on the daily problems high school
students deal with and prove to be an effective tool and forum for
promoting understanding, awareness and solutions among teenagers,
especially for Pomona’s at risk youth.

Writing the play seems to be the easier task, since four teams
of students with four “directors” exist and everyone must come to a
common agreement about which play to choose and what type of
artistic direction best fits the chosen piece.

Solano insists all of the students meet regularly to “talk about
issues,” and constantly stay on the same page, working towards the
same goal.

The groundwork for the play occurs around fall quarter and by
winter quarter, the rehearsal periods for the chosen play begin.
Springtime heralds the production of the play.

“Cal Poly Pomona students are there every step of the way with
them (the high school students),” says Solano.

The plays go on a “mini tour,” with show appearances at the Cal
Poly Pomona Downtown Center, Cal Poly’s own University Theater and
students’ own high schools.

The continued effort and success of this program, along with the
new funds, has created another educational avenue for Cal Poly
Pomona students.

“This (peer group program) is going to be a core course for a
new option we’ve been developing-Theater in Education and
Community,” says Solano.

Ifeanyi Chijindu can be reached by e-mail at
arts@thepolypost.com or by phone at (909) 869-3744.

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