By Dedra Cordle
The group of students had known each other for most of their lives.
They met in grade school, developed friendships in middle school and further bonded in high school over the challenges of homework, extracurricular activities and life in general. But for however many years they have been acquaintances and friends, they were each surprised by what they had to say and what they had to share during a workshop designed to encourage storytelling and expression.
It was early November and the final bell at West High School had just rang. Rather than head home for the day or attend a rigorous wrestling practice, five students headed to the band room where there was to be the second performance workshop from a pilot program established through the Ohio State University called “Be the Street.”
It was the first workshop junior Jason Conley had attended.
“My band teacher (Jochen McEvoy) informed me of this workshop and I thought it sounded interesting,” he said.
As a member of the school’s theater productions, Conley said he is used to performing as different characters, so the challenge of performing parts of his life to an audience through this workshop offered a different opportunity.
“It’s a little intimidating though,” he said.
That feeling was initially shared by the remainder of the group.
To settle some nerves, several associate professors, assistant professors and graduate students from Ohio State who are involved in the project had them do fun, bonding exercises such as “mingle-mingle” in order to work off energy.
Next came a word game using a beat where the students and OSU faculty shared their opinions on topics such as school, home and community. That was then followed up by individual and group performances about a moment in their lives they wanted to share.
Conley said though he was unsure about the premise of parts of the program at first, overall he was proud to have participated in this storytelling exercise. He added he wanted to continue being a participant in “Be the Street” to see firsthand how it unfolds at school and beyond.
“I think this program and its message is necessary because it offers the opportunity to see how other people live or have lived,” he said.
Sophomore Caitlin Morris expressed a similar sentiment.
“This has been interesting,” she said. “I’ve known most of them for years and I had no idea how they felt about some of this stuff we talked about and what they went through.”
Like Conley, Morris said she wants to see how “Be the Street” can reach those outside of the school building.
“I think it can really create a connection with other people and make them closer to that person.”
Ultimately, that is the goal of the project, said Paloma Martinez-Cruz, an assistant professor of Latino/a Cultural and Literary Studies at Ohio State’s Department of Spanish and Portuguese.
“This program was developed with a sense of community in mind,” she said.
It was established in 2016 across multiple departments at Ohio State. The premise of the project, explained associate professor Ana Puga with the Departments of Theatre and Spanish and Portuguese, was to give an overlooked community the chance to share their stories about movement, migration and placemaking, as well as the relationship one has within those topics.
“I think a question we all have is ‘What constitutes a home?’” she said.
She added that the westside community was chosen for this project because of its diversity and the variety of viewpoints those various ethnicities and cultures can offer in regards to that question.
Puga and the “Be the Street” team have been interviewing people throughout the community at various events to gather stories and see if they would be willing to share them via performance at the Westland Flea Market in May.
She said thus far, the public has been somewhat receptive to the idea of being in a performance, but they are more than willing to share their stories of how they came to call the westside home.
Puga said to date, there are 25 people (including several of the West High School students) who are firm commitments to the singing, dancing and/or acting performance groups next year, but they are still fielding interest from the community.
“January is when we will really start to try and put these stories and performances together,” Puga said.
There will be multiple sites where young adults and older adults can meet starting next year to explore their storytelling talents and hone their techniques in theatre arts at no monetary cost. Amongst those hosting are the Hilltop YMCA, CleanTurn Enterprises and the Guadalupe Center. The students at West said they will talk to the administration to see if they can continue to use the building as a site for an interested student body.
Puga said she is excited by the prospect of the people of the westside sharing their stories and cannot wait to see how the multitude of cultures and experiences can come together through performance during the first weekend of May.
For more information on “Be the Street” or to inquire about participating, contact Ana Puga at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit their web site at https://u.osu.edu/bethestreet/