PHOTOS: South Seattle students perform their own stories, not Broadway's | KUOW News and Information

PHOTOS: South Seattle students perform their own stories, not Broadway's

May 17, 2018

The end of the school year is a time for students to show off — debates, sports championships and performances abound. And for high schools around the state, it’s musical theater season.


At Seattle’s Roosevelt High School, drama students will present “Fiddler on the Roof.” You can catch a production of “The Wiz” at Franklin High School in Mt. Baker.

But you won’t find Broadway standards at Rainier Beach High School. The community-based Columbia City Youth Theater is taking over the RBHS performing arts center May 18th with “As Told By Us,” an evening of monologues, music and dance created by teen participants.

The material is sourced from the students’ lives, along with stories from community members.

Donte Felder, who leads Columbia City Youth Theater and teaches at Orca K-8 alternative school, is the driving force behind the production. He and two other adult mentors worked with the students to shape the individual monologues and the overall staging.

But Felder sees himself in a backseat role.

“The students are responsible for writing, directing and producing — the whole shebang,” Felder says. “Our job is to coach and guide them. Assist them in making quality decisions.”

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Dancers with Baile Dior Studios get ready to perform their dance to the song 'Desperado' by Rihanna during a rehearsal on Tuesday, May 15, 2018, at Rainier Beach high school in Seattle.
Credit KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer
Essence Roberson laughs while her peers try on their costumes during a rehearsal on Tuesday, May 15, 2018, at Rainier Beach high school in Seattle.
Credit KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Mentor Tariq Sahali, left, goes over lighting with sophomore Flora Saelor, right, during a rehearsal on Tuesday, May 15, 2018, at Rainier Beach high school in Seattle.
Credit KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Felder is concentrating on the artistic content. And Intiman Theatre’s fledgling Starfish Project is providing a technical training program, in which students work on everything from scenic design to running the lights and sound system.

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The Western Washington Training Program pays for members of the IATSE union to mentor Starfish participants. IATSE represents stagehands and other backstage theater artists.

Mentor Tariq Sahali says he’s a product of mentorship himself, and he feels it’s important to pass on his skills to the next generation.

Sophomore Mason Reyes squeezes between cables before helping to adjust the counterweight system that balances the stage lights on Thursday, May 10, 2018, at Rainier Beach high school in Seattle.
Credit KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Intiman Artistic Director Jennifer Zeyl piloted Starfish last year at Franklin High School. She wanted to create a path for students — particularly students of color — to learn about what goes on backstage, and to receive the kind of training that will pave the way to union-wage jobs.  

Baile Dior Studios dance instructor, TiQuida Spellman, center, watches the dancers during practice on Thursday, May 10, 2018, at Rainier Beach high school in Seattle.
Credit KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Ray Adams waits on stage during a rehearsal before practicing his act on Tuesday, May 15, 2018, at Rainier Beach high school in Seattle.
Credit KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Intiman specifically wanted to identify youth of color for Starfish. Artistic Director Jennifer Zeyl explains: "Producers call me and say, 'Who are the black lighting designers in town?' Well, we don't have any, because we didn't make any." 

 

From left, Baile Dior Studios dancers Jada Yamashita, Dyamond Dorsey, Yizjuani Watson, Queen Howell, and Simya Gibson listen to their dance instructor, TiQuida Spellman, far left, during a practice on Thursday, May 10, 2018, at Rainier Beach high school in Seattle.
Credit KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Dance teacher and choreographer TiQuida Spellman’s students have been working with Columbia City Youth Theater for several years. Spellman, a former public school physical education teacher, hopes her young dancers are inspired to pursue college degrees.

 

Sophomore Oanh Duong works on the light board during a rehearsal on Thursday, May 10, 2018, at Rainier Beach high school in Seattle.
Credit KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer
Shayla Lockart listens to feedback after performing during a practice on Thursday, May 10, 2018, at Rainier Beach high school in Seattle.
Credit KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Seventeen-year-old Shayla Lockart, who performs a monologue about a teenage girl whose parents are behind bars, talks of personal and academic problems, of feeling lost and alienated. Felder tells her she needs to reach even deeper into her true emotions in order to touch the audience members.

Messiah Fagerholm waits on stage before performing during a rehearsal on Tuesday, May 15, 2018, at Rainier Beach high school in Seattle.
Credit KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

I don't hate you. I hate myself for not having the guts to tell you I love you.

Some of the monologues touch on racism or violence, but not all. Eighteen-year old Messiah Fagerholm’s monologue is about unrequited love.

“I don’t hate you,” he tells an unseen young woman. “I hate myself for not having the guts to tell you I love you.”

 

Donte Felder, Director of the Columbia City Youth Theater Group, poses for a portrait on Thursday, May 10, 2018, at Rainier Beach high school in Seattle.
Credit KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Felder believes art saved his life when he was younger. In fifth grade, a teacher recognized his intellectual potential and pushed him to write a play.

“She said, ‘Donte, you’re a great storyteller,’" he remembers. "And I said, ‘No, I’m not.’ She said, ‘Write this play.’"

Felder wrote the play and went on to earn an MFA in creative writing. Now, he wants to use his experience to help young people find their own paths.

"As Told By Us" runs Friday, May 18; Saturday, May 19; Friday, May 25 and Saturday, May 26 at Rainier Beach High School's performing arts center.