By Amanda Wallace, JCCS lead registrar
The audience waiting to be seated for The Old Globe’s
Saturday matinee performance of Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods looked like
your standard theater-going crowd: older couples, small groups of ladies, a few
husbands that looked like they’d rather be anywhere than seeing a musical, and
a high school group. As I approached this group of nervous and excited young
men, they all smiled and waved.
For all but two of the 12 young men, this would be their
first theater experience. We talked about theater etiquette, the playwright,
and basic theater terminology. The students were engaged and quick to answer. I
expected nothing less of the 12 gentlemen from the Juvenile Court and Community
Schools’ (JCCS) Camp Barrett.
The JCCS staff in attendance were as excited as the students.
Stacy Spector, JCCS executive director; Ray Mallard, Camp Barrett’s English teacher;
and Joanne Finney, Camp Barrett’s principal, worked directly with SDCOE and San
Diego County Probation to ensure this group of young men would have the
opportunity to attend this performance as well as future visual and performing
arts experiences. As we entered the theater, the students were full of
questions and observations. Immediately, the student I was seated next to asked
why the actors were out and acknowledging the audience, even though the show hadn’t
started. We talked about the “fourth wall,” the convention actors use to
imagine there is no audience, rather, a fourth wall that would compete the box
shape of a standard proscenium theater. In this production, there was no fourth
wall; the actors would talk to us as an audience. He nodded and sat back in his
chair. He then started cracking jokes with the kid next to him. Now I was
Into the Woods is not known for its brevity. A running time
of nearly three hours requires an audience to be engaged. Was this the right show
for the students—a production that requires so much of an audience—as their
first foray into theater? And the student I was seated next to was now showing
himself to be the class clown. I took a deep breath as the lights came down. From
the moment the first chords of the first song were played, the students were no
longer leaning back in their seats. They were laughing at the jokes, they were
the first to applaud at the end of songs, and they were completely engaged.
After the show, staff and students shared a family meal in
the Old Globe’s courtyard. The students were full of questions, singing the
refrain from Into the Woods, and laughing. The most common question was, “When
can we come again?” As we ate, a question was asked about the set, and whether
it was normal for the actors to have talked to the audience. My seatmate, the
class clown, responded, “No, the actors were breaking the fourth wall. Didn’t
you notice how the floor of the stage was jagged and came out into the
audience? That represented them coming out to us.” My seatmate has assured me
theater is in his future. Suddenly, these Juvenile Court students were engaged
members of the arts community, sharing a common experience of community and
music. We witnessed their world view expand, and none of us should expect less
of the gentlemen from Camp Barrett.
Students even wrote reviews of the play. You can read a
couple of those reviews online.