Peer review Theater troupe confronts students with slices of life

January 07, 1993|By Frank P. L. Somerville | Frank P. L. Somerville,Staff Writer

Peer pressure among teen-agers can be destructive. At Northeast Baltimore's Chinquapin Middle School, a visiting troupe of young actors tried to bring pressure for good: ethics, morality and common sense.

But ever so subtly.

Organized by the American Friends Service Committee, the troupe of five high school visitors -- two boys and three girls -- acted out a series of skits yesterday they had prepared on teen pregnancy, safe sex, abstinence, AIDS, drugs, alcohol abuse and family violence.

After each skit, they fielded questions from their 13- and 14-year-old audiences.

Sometimes, the answers were purposely given by the actors while still in their roles, such as "Maria," a "12-year-old girl" who accepted drugs from an older boy. She got sick, collapsed on the stage, and probably died.

Fran Donelan directs the improvisational theater group for the Friends committee. She told the Chinquapin students: "These skits are open-ended. That means we don't tell you what's going to happen. We try to get you to think about the solutions, yourselves. We don't give you happy endings. They're frozen in time."

The device seemed to work.

A girl in the audience demanded of "Chris," the teen-age drug dealer, "Why did you give it to her?"

And the answer came from "Chris" -- the character portrayed by a 15-year-old Poly student. "I didn't care what happened to the girl," he said.

"Do you take drugs?" the "drug dealer" was asked.

"No, it's not for me," he replied. "They want it, I give it to them."

The young actress playing the part of the 12-year-old who tried drugs -- "Maria" -- was asked by a girl in the audience why she did it. And "Maria" replied, "I wanted him to notice me and I wanted to be cool."

In another skit, a "17-year-old girl," at first reluctant, was pressured by one of her friends to have sex with a boyfriend. Soon afterward, in a conversation that she thought was going to be about his test scores for college, she learned that he tested positive for HIV.

"How could you be so stupid, to have sex without a condom?" an exasperated 13-year-old Chinquapin student wanted to know.

"Because it happened so fast," was the answer.

The actors, only a year or so older than many in their audiences, were Tawanna Kane, a junior at the Baltimore School for the Arts; Anissa Weems, Donja Johns and McCay Moiforay, sophomores at Poly; and Angelique Burroughs, a freshman at Lake Clifton-Eastern High School. All are 15 except Angelique, who is 14 and graduated from Chinquapin last year.

They succeeded in prompting answers as well as questions from their audiences. A boy stood up and addressed his peers after a skit about a drunken mother who hit her son. Someone had wondered why the victim didn't tell his girlfriend.

"You wouldn't tell your friends if your mother was beating you," the boy said with authority.

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