Cal Shakes received an overwhelming and positive response from local educators who had seen black odyssey—teachers who then inquired about Student Matinees, who wanted copies of the script to teach in their own class, and those who just wanted to find a way to share this play with their students. Jessica Hom, an English teacher at Aspire College Prep, told us: “When I saw black odyssey on my own, I knew right away that I wanted my students to see the show. The play shows complex Black characters finding strength in the resilience of their ancestors. It gives my students a chance to see representations of their own community on stage, and does so with a lot of humor, music, and joy.”
We got so many inquiries, in fact, that we added special programming, including an Interactive Study Guide (usually created for our Shakespeare plays to accompany our Student Discovery Matinees) and a Student Night. Over 100 young people and their chaperones joined us on August 29 from Diablo Valley College, Richmond College Prep, Skyline High, Carondolet High, Black Diamond High, Oakland Tech, Aspire College Prep, and Boy Scout Troop 409. black odyssey dramaturg Lisa Evans led a pre-show discussion with activities and storytelling, engaging over 60 students before the show.
The evening had “enormous impact on my students!” shares Zia Grossman-Vendrillo of Richmond College Prep. “For some of them this was the first play they had ever seen and now I think the bar is set too high! They really enjoyed it and seemed to follow along very well. It was also wonderful to have some of the students attend with their parents—I think it was a really special night for them. I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to take my students of color to see a play with artists of color performing such an incredible piece with such a resonant message.”
Heidi Goen-Salter, of Diablo Valley College’s Umoja Program, said of the evening, “It had a powerful impact. The students absolutely loved it. They’ve been talking about it since then—remembering scenes and lines, asking about how to get involved with something similar, talking about taking drama classes, etc. And there was definitely a bonding that happened as well since the students were from several different cohorts and didn’t all know each other beforehand. But after breaking bread together, sharing ideas in the pre-show talk, shivering under rented blankets, experiencing the marvelous performance, and crowding into each others’ cars afterwards—we’re bonded!”
Hom’s students also loved it. “At intermission, one of my students was simply distraught. I asked him what was wrong, and he said he couldn’t believe it was over. When I told him that it was only intermission, and that we had another act to go, he was so happy that he started jumping around. I also know that my students really connected to the show emotionally; I could hear them laughing, and affirming, and even crying at the end.”
“My students kept on talking about how relevant the work was to them,” said Ena Dallas from Oakland Tech. “They communicated to me that seeing such seasoned actors perform amazing story telling based in African-American history was life-changing for them.”
Artistic Learning programs such as this are not possible without significant help from donors, many of whom are audience members who give small amounts after every show. Every teacher we spoke to confirmed that they would not have been able to bring their students without subsidized tickets—we offer over 5,000 free or deeply discounted tickets every season. “Thank you and thank all the generous donors who made those tickets affordable, says Goen-Salter. “When I first investigated and saw tickets in the $50-$70 range, I didn’t go any further since I knew we couldn’t afford that price. But your willingness to work with us…made all the difference!”‘
If ensuring that students have this kind of access to theater is important to you, you can play a large role in helping. We’ve already raised almost 90% of our goal for the year, with only $10,000 left to go. Help us get there!