Drew–Newark collaboration makes for a smashing summer.

As a Newark cop, Georgina Miranda held the audience rapt. Photo by Lynne DeLade
As a Newark cop, Georgina Miranda held the audience rapt. Photo by Lynne DeLade

Newark teenager Georgina Miranda looks every bit the cop as she takes over the stage in the Directing Lab of the Dorothy Young Center for the Arts. During a monologue her character, a police officer in Newark, ponders her immigrant parents’ pursuit of the American dream. “My father is the most successful man I know,” she says dreamily. It’s a tender moment, fueled no doubt by her own experience. Miranda, a June graduate of Newark’s East Side High School, is the child of Central American immigrants herself.

This scene from “American Dreamz/American Reality,” an original blend of playlets, music and dance performed July 31, was created by an ensemble of 20 Newark high school students and four Drew drama students. They spent three intense weeks researching, writing and staging the production, a collaboration between Drew and the Newark Public Schools’ Marion A. Bolden Student Center. On the surface it’s a theatrical enterprise. But below the skin, the alliance—now in its fifth year—is much more.

“The Drew students are learning mentoring skills and furthering their theater education,” says associate theatre arts professor Chris Ceraso, who runs the program with Drew colleagues Lisa Brenner and Rodney Gilbert. “The Newark kids get to work in theater, but they’re also building life skills. They’re being given an opportunity to work collaboratively, with different kinds of people, in a disciplined way.”

First came field research into the working life of the Newark community. Two Drew sociology professors showed students how to conduct and record interviews. Some were surprised at what they learned. “I interviewed a janitor who actually felt satisfied with his life. He didn’t need a nice home and picket fence to be happy,” says RaiQuan Becheam, a former Malcolm X Shabazz High School student.

Then, with professors editing, the students wove the best of the stories into a script.

Analyzing a subject as complex as the American dream added yet another dimension to the experience. “The kids get a taste of the theater experience, but this is also about college readiness,” Brenner says.—Mary Jo Patterson