The first Student Discovery Matinee of the year was yesterday morning, for John Steinbeck’s The Pastures of Heaven. We had about 420 people in the house, the majority of whom were from under-served Oakland middle and high schools. Two of those schools had also had a Pastures residency this spring in which they studied and dramatized stories from the book. The students were an excellent audience, and proved themselves respectful and interested for the entire show—and, as usual, there was a lot of vocal response! I tell you, you never know how much kissing is really going on in a show until you play it for adolescents! The Tularecito story seemed particularly interesting and affecting to this audience—their reaction was to laugh at first, and then were drawn in to his real sweetness, and were very quiet when he was sent to the asylum. The Tortilla Sisters won applause, and the flash-paper fire was also a hit, of course.
In the Question and Answer session afterward, some usual questions came up such as “How long did you rehearse?”, “Have any of you been on TV?,” as well as “What was your favorite character to play?” and “How do you practice for hard roles like Tularecito?” This last one gave Tobie (Windham, pictured at right as Tularecito, with Emily Kitchens as Miss Morgan; photo by Jay Yamada) a chance to elaborate on how stepping into someone else’ shoes really helped him understand someone with development difficulties, since it’s so easy from the outside to think they are just really strange. The other very interesting thing that came up was that the character of Raymond Banks says about going to see an execution, “I think it’s a Mexican this time.” When that line was said, there was an audible gasp in the audience, which was of mostly Latino origin. One boy asked, “Why was that a joke?” Actor Catherine Castellanos said that she didn’t think it was a joke, but that the character said it in a way that might have seemed disrespectful because of the time period in which these stories are set, and that people were viewed very much by whatever easily perceived characteristic they had, be it race, or anything else and hopefully we are a lot better at being respectful of everyone now.
Ava Jackson and Clive Worsley were the stars of the hour, making everything run great and be fun at the same time; the PIPs were all enthusiastic and did great with their groups, and being in the new space was pretty amazing backstage and front. (Sorry, I know we go on and on about the bathrooms, etc., but Artistic Learning really got the advantage of all this today!)
Thanks to everyone who makes this kind of thing happen; we are so proud that we can provide this incredible opportunity to get young people in to see great actors, in a great play, in a great space. Wow.