DSC_8615They tackled weighty subjects, including school violence, homosexuality and suicide, but also injected humor, dance and music into four new one-act plays that were performed on the Drew University campus.

High school students from the Marion A. Bolden Student Center in Newark, an extended day program of Newark Public Schools, in collaboration with Drew University theatre students, performed four new plays on Wednesday, July 30, 2014 at the Directing Lab inside the Dorothy Young Center for the Performing Arts.

It’s the third summer Bolden Center students have performed on the Drew campus. The summer program is an offshoot of a drama class that is offered during the school year that pairs Newark students and Drew students. During the summer, Newark high school students from the Bolden Center spend a week living on the Drew campus, and three additional weeks commuting to the school to rehearse and prepare for the performance.

This summer, around 25 students from the Bolden Center participated along with eight Drew theatre department students and recent graduates.

The cost of the program is underwritten by donors, including the Victoria Foundation, Drew alumnus Paul Drucker, and the Casement Fund.

“It’s a wonderful time to get to meet new people,” said Yusef Williams, 18, of Newark. Williams is a recent high school graduate who acted in the summer plays and is heading to Benedict College in the fall. “We learned about the art of theater and the history of theater, plus there was the bonding and getting to know each other.”

“It was a good experience,” said 14-year-old Crystal Thompson of Newark. “I got an understanding of how college life works.”

The plays touched on the topics of African-American ancestors, school violence, helicopter parents, school pressure, life after death and other issues. They were commissioned for the Drew summer program and written by established playwrights Keith Josef Adkins and Chisa Hutchinson, who interviewed the students prior to writing the plays. “Our work always comes from students and the issues and concerns they raise,” explained Drew Professor Lisa Brenner, who was one of the coordinators of the summer theatre program. Others are Drew Professor Chris Ceraso and Rodney Gilbert, an adjunct professor and Newark educator and his co-director, Michele Morgan.

This year’s performance was dedicated to Terence Garland, an alumnus of the summer theater program who died in a car accident earlier this summer.

In addition to the 25 students in the play, Gilbert brought middle school students from the Newark Housing Authority to attend the show at Drew and said their older counterparts enjoy the academic enrichment and diversity they experience during the college program. “They get a full college experience being here,” he said.

“This week was absolutely incredible,” said Stephanie Weymouth, a recent Drew graduate who mentored the Newark students in the summer program. “I fell in love with these kids. They have so much to say and art gives them the ability to say it.”

Brenner said the summer theater program supports Drew’s mission of civic engagement and community-based learning, while helping Drew students sharpen their artistic talents. “Both the Drew mentors and the Newark public school students learn from one another,” she said. “We believe theater gives students skills that include creativity, teamwork, cooperation, focus, discipline, self-confidence and self-expression.”