Palo Alto College production uses elements of Shakespeare.
By Pam Paz
The status of education in the U.S. and “teaching to the test” are addressed in Palo Alto College’s department of fine arts/speech communication presentation of “This Above All.”
Alison Vasquez, drama instructor at PAC, co- wrote and will direct the play.
Vasquez, a San Antonio native, received a master of fine arts degree at Ohio State University in the spring of 2012. While there, she was a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company.
This company partnered with Stand Up for Shakespeare, an organization trained to teach Shakespeare to children in kindergarten through 12th grade.
Vasquez collaborated with eight other graduate students at Ohio State to co-playwright the play. They are Alex Boyles, Ashely Kobza, Tory Matsos, Kevin McClatchy, Moopi Mothibeli, Charlesanne Rabensburg, Ibsen Santos and Aaron Michael Zook.
Vasquez and her co-playwrights taught Shakespeare to students in public schools in Columbus, Ohio, 2010-11.
The curriculum was based on dramatic inquiry pedagogy, which is starting things with a question, Vasquez said.
The most rewarding part was seeing four students test out of special education after they participated in Stand Up for Shakespeare.
She said the characters were based on students and teachers she and her peers worked with.
The title of the play comes from the famous line in Act 1 of Hamlet when Polonius tells his son, Laertes, “This above all: to thine own self be true.”
The play is set in a Texas high school with jaded teachers, unmotivated students and standardized tests.
A new freshman English teacher recognizes a problem and uses Shakespeare to bring teaching back to the classroom.
Soon they discover hidden meaning in Shakespeare’s writing and their own lives.
During rehearsal Feb. 21 in the theater in the performing arts center at Palo Alto, Vasquez stopped a scene to ensure the students understood it on a deeper level.
The actors were rehearsing a scene about what their lives were like at home.
“Why do you say what you say?” she asked drama sophomore Amber Perez, who plays pregnant Lala, and drama freshman Ryan Ozuniga, who plays Brock the Jock.
Vasquez helped the students make connections to the story and understand how the audience would perceive it.
The play has nine actors who play multiple roles.
Liberal arts sophomore Jonathan Velez plays three roles: a father, a foreign exchange student and a teacher.
Drama sophomore Erica Beard plays Mrs. Mann, the coach, and Beatrice, the smart girl. Beard likes the message the play sends.
“What you learn in high school doesn’t prepare you for the real world,” she said. “No one teaches you how to do your taxes, balance your checkbook or change your tire.”
One of the Shakespearian elements of the play is the use of a jester.
The jester speaks directly to the audience and provides comic relief. Benito Lara, part-time technical assistant at PAC, plays the part of the jester, the school janitor.
Lara is a 2006 graduate of this college with an associate degree in drama.
Drama sophomore Angel Huerta plays Penny, a shy student who never says a word. Though she doesn’t talk until the end of the play, she delivers the message of the play in one line: “How do you redeliver a heart?”
This play contains strong language and adult situations and may not be suitable for children.
The play premieres at 7 p.m. Thursday. Additional showings will be at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. March 7-8 and 3 p.m. March 9 at the Palo Alto Performing Arts Center, 1400 W. Villaret.
Admission is $3 for PAC students, faculty and staff and $5 for other Alamo College students and the public.
For information, 210-486-3207.