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Published February 22, 2017
Miramonte's Theater-in-Education makes an impact at Orinda Intermediate
Photo Sora O'Doherty

Do transgender kids change their names?
Why did you put labels on each other?
Do you wish you had stood up for one another?
These are just a few of the questions that Orinda Intermediate School students asked members of the Miramonte High School Drama program, who performed Theater-in-Education on Friday Feb. 3 in the OIS multipurpose room. Under the supervision of Miramonte Theater Arts Director Heather Cousins, the drama students wrote and performed three different pieces for the OIS sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders on the subject of cultural sensitivity at the request of OIS Principal Michael Randall. After each performance, the OIS students were invited to question the players, who were directed to remain in character to answer, thereby making the "hot seating" question and answer session a further performance, not scripted but improvisational.
The performances ranged from broad stripes, such as student's performing a game where they were literally labeled according to some perceived characteristic, to subtle, such as the confusion of one character, part Asian, on being labeled "racist" because she looked at her Asian friend when another commented, "It smells like rice here." One piece focused on a transgender boy using the boys' bathroom while other boys were present. Through questions and answers the younger and older students tackled tough issues like, "Is being called 'gay' an insult?" Are transgender kids sure about their sexuality? Do your parents support you in choosing between either of their religions, or even a different religion altogether?
Hands flew up across the auditorium as the younger students felt free to ask the older students many questions on the sensitive topics under consideration. The transgender issue garnered the most questions. Sixth-grader Hannah Johnson, sporting a Children's Theater hoodie, deemed the performance "really impressive," noting that she liked how the Miramonte students showed the different characteristics with their acting.
Jackie Decarean, a Miramonte senior, explained that the students wrote and memorized their scripts, creating performances centered on cultural, sexual or gender identity, with a message of acceptance of everyone, no matter what their identity. Decarean would also be performing in the evening in a Shakespeare Showcase at the Miramonte Theater, where students would perform Shakespeare's classic works condensed into eight minutes and performed with nothing more than four chairs.
Caidan Anderson, a Miramonte junior, said he hadn't planned on taking drama, but he needed a class and drama had an opening. He is now enjoying his second year of drama. He described himself as one of the most conservative of the Miramonte students, saying that his priority was to make sure that the performance wasn't too "one-sided." He didn't want anyone to end feeling alienated or attacked. He remembered attending the Theater in Education performance when he was an OIS student and being fascinated with how the student actors stayed in character during the hot seating portion. For the past two years, Anderson said, Miramonte students have been participating in Theater Sports, a collection of improvisational games, on Fridays.
Cousins began the Theater-in-Education program in 2000, and it has continued to be a biannual part of the Character Ed program at OIS. In the past, topics have focused on bullying and peer pressure. "The issue of cultural sensitivity has turned very timely, not just in our schools but in our nation," Cousins remarked, adding "there is something very powerful in having middle school students see high schoolers from just down the road taking on difficult subject matters that are relevant to their lives. Other theater-in-education programs exist with adult, paid actors. However, this partnership proves to be more personal and meaningful."

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