Saturday, March 9, 2013

The Laramie Project

As promised, what follows are my thoughts/reviews of the Burnett Drama Department's Spring Production of "The Laramie Project".
I have written before of how privileged and proud I feel to have the opportunity to work and learn with the talented and dedicated staff and students of J.N. Burnett Secondary school.  I have referenced the great things happening both in and outside the classroom and am honestly astounded by many of the things I see.
The theatre production that has just finished running this past week, however, has me almost at a loss for words.  All that comes to mind is "WOW!".  Under the direction of Drama teacher Mr. Marco Soriano and with the assistance of fellow staff members Mr. Wes Bevan, Mrs. Cristina Carvalhiero and Ms. Kirsten Taylor (who provided help with set construction, video production and artwork) the talented cast and crew put together a stunningly beautiful and provocative piece.
The Laramie Project is a well-known and critically-acclaimed 3-act play that profiles the city of Laramie, Wyoming.  In October of 1998, a gay university student was brutally beaten and killed in the town. The story got a tremendous amount of media attention, and one month later the Tectonic Theatre company went to Laramie and conducted over 200 interviews over the next year with many residents of the area.  The interviews led to the writing of the play.  

Most high school performances leave the audience laughing, singing and/or feeling good about life.  This one was different.  As described by Mr. Soriano, the play "provokes thought, incites conversation and challenges the performers... (it) does not pretend to offer solutions.  It simply holds up a mirror to us as an audience and forces us to consider our role in the problem."  Issues surrounding respect, tolerance, prejudice, relationships and community run throughout the play and have both cast and audience members thinking and asking questions at the play's conclusion.  While I was impressed by and proud of our students and their performances, I found myself wondering, despite about all that we do at Burnett to combat many of these issues in today's world, are we doing enough?

The stage work, lighting, sound, visuals and performances were at a remarkably professional level.  Most of the actors had between 3 and 5 different roles and the characters, accents and opinions were widely disparate.  The performers were stunningly good in their portrayals and played each role with impressive depth and conviction.  The lessons learned by cast and audience members alike will resonate with them for years to come, and hopefully, performances such as these will continue to challenge us to make the world a more respecting, thoughtful and caring place.
Apparently, I am not at a loss for words.  I would like to thank all of the staff and students who worked so hard in putting together what was a moving, professional and thought-provoking production.  Well done!  It may be a copyright infringement, but I give the show "two thumbs way up"!

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Extra-Curricular Experiences

It is the time of year when schools and communities all around British Columbia are coming together to cheer, support and be excited about the high school basketball playoffs.  This may be debatable, since all sports have their audience and supporters, but the BC High School Senior Basketball Championships (both Boys and Girls) seem to be the crown jewel of the high school sports scene.
J.N. Burnett's Senior Boys team has completed its season, finishing just short of the Provincial Tournament after placing 6th in the Lower Mainland qualifier. Despite the disappointment of falling one spot shy of their goal, it has been an extremely exciting and rewarding journey for both the team and the school.  After many close games in league, the team finished the regular season with a 9-1 record, then hosted the Richmond playoffs.  The school community fed off the success of the team, and the Richmond tournament (written about here), was an incredibly fun place to be for four glorious days.  The crowds in the gym, the buzz around the school, and the sense of pride and school spirit is a big part of what makes school sports such an important part of a young person's education.
I remember my time in high-school athletics very fondly.  Many of the lessons learned while playing for school teams are the things I use most frequently in my adult life.  Overcoming obstacles, collective problem solving, working together, leadership skills, challenging yourself in difficult times and how to communicate effectively and build relationships with my teammates and coaches are all things that were learned best on the court or field, and are the skills that serve me best today.  While classroom teachers are also developing many of these 21st Century Skills, too often schools and students are judged by marks and exam results (see the controversial Fraser Institute Rankings).  We need to appreciate that the lessons learned through curricular and extracurricular opportunities are often immeasurable and overlooked but equally important and may resonate with students even longer.
The Richmond District has a strong tradition of success in basketball, and much of it is because we have been blessed with tireless volunteers like Paul Eberhardt, Les Hamaguchi, Chris Kennedy, Anne Gillrie-Carre, Bill Disbrow and Kent Chappell to name just a few of the better-known coaches who have worked the sidelines for many years.  These volunteers are people who put in countless hours and create the experiences that make memories for the students on their teams.  While some may occasionally criticize some of their methods, no one can question their efforts, knowledge, the lessons learned and how much they care about the students with whom they work.

Much like School Sports, other extra-curricular programs are hitting their stride at this time of year.  Next week, the Burnett Drama Department will be performing its Spring Production, "The Laramie Project".  Events such as these (which I will write about in greater detail in a future blog post) are incredibly rich learning experiences for the students, and serve as a fantastic way to bring the community together to support and learn from and with our children.  Don't miss out on what promises to be an educational and entertaining show! 
To all the performers, competitors, directors and coaches who have worked and learned so much this year, thank you!  And to all of those who are still playing and performing, best of luck!  Make the most of these opportunities, because they will become the memories that you will carry with you for the rest of your lives.  The learning that happens in events like these stays with you and helps shape you into the adults you will become.