Published August 16. 2014 5:56PM Updated August 16. 2014 11:23PM
New London — A group of about two dozen local students at New London High School on Saturday staged a performance of “Sincerely, The Streets,” an original play that tackles the difficult issue of violence and its effects in a community.
The performance was the capstone of an eight-week summer program organized by Writers Block Ink, a regional program in which students write and perform hip-hop- and dance-based theatrical productions to explore and illuminate social issues.
During the course of the summer, the roughly 25 students work in groups to craft a script, write original songs and poems, choreograph dance numbers and learn some tips on stage acting.
The theme of “Sincerely, The Streets” is violence of all kinds. The play deals with weighty issues such as gang violence, rape, suicide and domestic abuse, and expresses the effects of the violence through acting, rap, dance and song.
“Everyone can relate to violence,” said Isaiah General, a 16-year-old Norwich Technical High School student who plays one of the show’s main characters. “Violence in our streets is real; violence is an issue that needs to be resolved.”
The show focuses on a group of teens as they find their way through a vicious cycle of violence on their neighborhood streets and discover the ripple effects that violence has on each other and their community.
“The theme really hits close to home; every single kid on stage has been affected in some way by violence,” said Naomi Jones, a 15-year-old Waterford High School student who plays a television news reporter in the show. “It’s important that we can express that, and what I’ve told the others is that this is not a show, it’s a testimony.”
Jones said she first got involved with Writers Block Ink last summer because she wanted “to inspire people to change the way they do things.”
Adriane Jefferson, an adult leader who directed the performance, said the group has been discussing the death of Michael Brown, who was fatally shot by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo., on Aug. 9. Brown’s death, and the unrest that has followed, served as grim reminders that the show’s theme was apt.
“This is the reality for a lot of these kids, and sometimes it’s a reality check for the audience,” Jefferson said. “But not everyone understands where these kids are coming from, what they’re experiencing and how it affects them.”
Jefferson said she enjoys seeing how the students grow and develop as artists and individuals over the course of the eight-week summer program. Most significantly, she said, the students gain the confidence to express themselves openly and perform on stage in front of an audience.
“We try to create an environment where it is OK for them to be themselves and they feel like they belong, and for some of them, it is the first time they feel understood or empowered,” she said. “That generates the youth leadership and helps empower the next generation.”
Jefferson can personally vouch for the empowering effect of Writers Block; at 16, she was a founding student member of the organization.
“While the show is one output of what Writers Block is, at our heart the first two words of our purpose are to empower youth,” said Clarissa Beyah-Taylor, the president and founder of Writers Block Ink. “What we want to do is launch leaders.”
Student performers said they received an outpouring of positive feedback after the show’s opening performance on Friday and felt gratified that “Sincerely, The Streets” could have an impact on the audience.
“It’s so rewarding to hear people clapping and to hear them say that this show changed their view of something,” said Ariana Sampeur, a 15-year-old Norwich Free Academy student. “The fact that we’re able to develop something that is a positive message in eight weeks shows that the youth can make change and that our voices are necessary.”