Learning onstage | AspenTimes.com

Learning onstage

VOICES offers students the opportunity grow as they create performance art
A student actor participates in "Panic," VOICES' 2017 production.

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Friday, 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, 3:30 and 7:30 p.m. This second-annual performance festival will include two 30-minute shows that incorporate spoken word, music, poetry, puppetry, dancing and mime. Students from Basalt and Roaring Fork high schools worked with artist mentors as they created the shows. “Loving Monsters” explores adolescence, fear, confusion and anger. “Where We Are Whole Again” uses happy and painful memories and imagination to tell the story of a better place.

Thunder River Theatre, 67 Promenade, Carbondale | $10 suggested donation | 274-3741 | amplifyingvoices.org

I have been involved in theater my entire life, yet I have never been a part of a rehearsal process as exciting, fresh and (at times) frightening as the VOICES Project.

The last four weeks, I have been directing an entirely original piece of devised theater with eight students from Roaring Fork High School and three other artist mentors. Our creation involves poetry, dance, puppetry, music, masks and so much heart. I have laughed, been moved to tears and been fiercely inspired by the stories shared by each of these young adults. It’s been even more amazing to watch us become a team even though everyone has very different backgrounds and experience in the arts.

My background is in theater, most recently improvisational theater. While our final performance with the VOICES Project is not improvised, the creative process is largely inspired by the art of improvisation. “Leap and build your wings in the air!” is the motto of VOICES and has been my personal mantra as challenges have arisen through rehearsal. This project does not involve a script. It doesn’t involve a master plan on the part of the professional artist mentors. From the moment we began, there has been no right answer. There is, however, a “Yes, and!” mentality straight out of Improv 101. We show up. We support one another. We respect one another. We build off of each other’s strengths and ideas. The end result is a reflection of the collective mind and is unlike anything before it.

It’s a huge leap of faith. That’s where the fear comes in. These students are doing brave and vulnerable work. They started with their stories, ideas, and passions. Then we found unifying themes and created a title. From there, they collaborated to craft a variety of pieces. Next stop, the stage!

Their final performance won’t look or feel like a traditional play. It may challenge your notion of what theater is or should be. I hope that you leave the show feeling admiration for these young performers and respect for the organic and collaborative process of creation they have been through. It is truly inspiring.

One day, as we were wrapping up rehearsal, a student said to me, “I can’t believe you have so much faith in us.” I do. I believe these students have something special to share and I am proud to support their VOICES.

Cassidy Willey is a local theatre artist and teacher. She is a member of TRTC’s Consensual Improv. Cassidy is a Valley native and proud to be raising her son, Elliot, with her husband in Carbondale.

Roaring Fork High School was one of two schools in the valley that were challenged with the task of creating an original show in four weeks by VOICES. As an active sophomore at Roaring Fork High, I seized the opportunity and signed up for this project.

I missed the first practice and was late to the second, but I was intrigued. So I continued to show up. When I walked in on the third day of rehearsal, teaching artist Myrlin Hepworth’s familiar face was one of the first I noticed in the room, inviting and kind. He encouraged us all to write honestly and be kind to one another, but most importantly, to have fun.

Over the course of two weeks, we brainstormed together every afternoon. We did a lot of writing work and completed several workshops. Then, we shared our thoughts and ideas about themes and titles and came to our conclusion of “Loving Monsters.” This was then used as the base for all of our creative work.

Together, Myrlin, Cassidy and I wrote and put together an amazing piece that I am now ecstatic to perform. I have had many doubts. There were times when I wanted to throw it all away, but there was no way I could leave and let not only my team down but also myself.

I strongly believe that my message and my piece in this show are things that contribute to a national conversation and taboo subject that needs more light shed upon it.

This project has been an opportunity not only for me to share things and be vulnerable on the stage but also to spread the word about sexual violence, in the best way I know how: poetry. I came into this without really knowing anything about my cast members, despite my heavy involvement in school. Now I can confidently say that I will be leaving this project with a new set of friends not only at my school but also in my community.

Daniela Rivera is a sophomore at Roaring Fork High School.

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