“When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another…” And the speech kept rolling and overlapping, the voices intensified and the meaning solidified. Words from the United States Declaration of Independence fell from the mouths of some very talented and driven teenagers this summer at the Hertz Stage of the Alliance Theatre.
These teens were part of a unique program called The Collision Project, hosted by the Alliance Theatre at the Woodruff Arts Center. The program ran three weeks and hosted 20 metro Atlanta high school students who “collided” with a classic text. In doing so they created an original piece of theater that reflects their voices as young members of this society.
The young artists worked with one professional writer and other professional directors and actors who helped guide them through the fantastic, organic journey to creation. This was not an acting course, a drama camp or writing workshop – rather, an in-depth study of the power of youth, and our relationship to one classic text.
This summer I was part of Collision X , the tenth collision team. Our group had the privilege of exploring the Declaration of Independence, a document essential to the understanding of American and global citizenship.
The first two weeks were dedicated to hour-long discussions exploring every nut and bolt regarding citizenship, freedoms and our roles as young individuals. We would find ourselves sitting in a circle with our arms sore from raising our hands, eager to deliver our point of view-which would often drastically differ from that of the other members, but we never stepped on each other or criticized each others’ beliefs.
It was proof that human beings really can discuss different viewpoints in a respectful and civilized manner, and also create something from it.
We wrote our unspoken thoughts and submitted them to the gracious, wise and intelligent Pearl Cleage, New York Times Bestselling author who organized our words to create one coherent theatre piece.
We did much more than talk, however. We spent much of our time working with physical theater, using our bodies to express certain ideas or feelings. The pieces we created included music, dance and acting, which all came together seamlessly in our final performance.
After we had spent two weeks playing, talking, learning from one another, it was time to organize ourselves for the performance, which would be under the direction of Rosemary Newcott, Patrick McColery and Rodney Williams. We only received our full script the week of the performance. Working in such an intense environment only made us want to work harder to be able to best showcase the topics that we had spent so much time pulling apart.
The project offered a chance to interact and collaborate with a text in a way unknown to classic academic styles. We used performance to show the audience what we felt about the positives and negatives, injustices and benefits of the Declaration of Independence.
After all, many of us seemingly forget about the power of the document after finishing an American history class. Sometimes an intimate space and performance can create an effect that cannot be found in a book, movie or television show. This was live, raw action conceived and executed by the minds of youth.
In no other medium could I have discovered the same sense of who I am, what I believe and my duties as a citizen. Having done so with 19 other distinct individuals is unparalleled.