Wood High's 'Live and Learn' episodes explore jealousies, peer pressure, AIDS

KIDS' SOAP: SLANG LACED WITH WISDOM

November 12, 1993|By Robert Hilson Jr. | Robert Hilson Jr.,Staff Writer

As the scene opens, two girls are discussing their sneakers in front of lockers on the third floor at Francis M. Wood Senior High School. It seems the $95 pair owned by one girl is no longer chic.

"Whaaat," one girl says. "My man gives me more than that just to go to Mickey Ds."

"Tell me about it," the other replies. "I told Granny to march right back to Mondawmin and get those $200 ones I want."

The scene is part of an episode of "Live and Learn," a student-produced soap opera at the West Baltimore school. But the issues of peer pressure and material goods are real to Kanika Black, a sophomore and one of the production's stars.

The 17-year-old Northeast Baltimore girl recently saw two other teen-age girls argue and then have a fistfight over a pair of expensive athletic shoes.

"It's crazy they did it," Kanika said during a taping. "But this [the soap opera] is like life. It's all true to life. It's all what's happening out there everyday. I wouldn't be as interested in acting in it if the topics weren't true to life."

Realism -- especially urban realism -- is the key to "Live and Learn," which is set in and around the school campus and explores in detail such topics as AIDS, relationships, youths with beepers, peer pressure and jealousy. The language is street talk and hip-hop slang laced with vulgarities.

The actors, actresses and crew are 10th-, 11th- and 12th-graders who live in neighborhoods throughout the city. Many have experienced firsthand the themes the production examines.

For example, Marvin Farley, 16, of Park Heights, plays the role of "Pete," who worries that he may have contracted AIDS when he cheated on his girlfriend.

"I don't know anyone who has it, but I know people who are real sick and you think it might be AIDS," Marvin said. "I can put more feeling into it because I can relate to it better."

And Deonte Parnell, 17, who plays a friend of someone who may have AIDS, hears stories about promiscuity daily from his aunt, a social worker who works with AIDS patients.

"It wakes you up and makes you think," Marvin said.

The idea for the urban soap opera was developed by Shelley Jordon, the school's video class instructor. The themes, she said, are what many inner-city youths encounter daily.

"It's an on-air psychology program," Ms. Jordon said. "These issues are relevant to all teens in urban settings. We wanted to show some of the pitfalls and some of the joys of life. Teen-agers need a forum for expressing their ideas and their creativity."

The Francis M. Wood School is an "at-risk" school and many of its 400 students have been expelled from or had attendance problems at other schools. Others were placed there by the court system, according to Rose Backus-Davis, the school's assistant principal.

She said that the soap opera was undertaken as another attempt to "make it interesting for them to learn."

Students began filming in early October and the production is set for its premiere Monday. Nov. 15. It will be seen only on the school's cable station until later this year when Francis Wood administrators hope to have 15 minute shows broadcast to all city schools biweekly on the school cable Channel One.

'Learning discipline'

The 20 members of the cast and crew get credit in their vocational classes for their theatrical efforts. The actors have the same parts at each daily rehearsal, but the students rotate the duties of a stage production's crew members and technicians.

Ms. Jordon wrote the initial script during the summer, but she says that students will either write or have a hand in writing additional scripts.

"I just never noticed anything from the urban point of view, from a teen-age point of view like this one," Ms. Jordon said. "They're learning discipline, teamwork and thinking skills by doing this."

Demetrius Hicks, a stage crew member, said the production has brought the students together "like one big family. Everyone enjoys doing and wants to do it."

Ms. Jordon is the only nonstudent who has a part in the soap opera, and then only because there were not enough girls in the class to fill some of the roles.

Playing the part

To help out, Harry Geddis, 17, volunteered to play the role of a female, a lively young woman named Erlene.

"Being a boy every day is all right, but being a girl is hard," said Harry, a strapping 6-foot, streetwise 11th-grader. "I just thought I'd do it to get some laughs, to be a fool."

But there was more to it. First he had to change his voice to sound "sweet." Then he had to wear a dress and makeup and act and "twitch" like a girl.

And he had to do all of this in front of a camera and his friends.

"I never thought I would have to act the fool this much," Harry said. "All of this makes you a good actor."

During a filming session, Charles Griffin, an energetic 17-year-old, took a turn at being director. He watched "take after take" of a one-minute dialog being shot before he called it a wrap.

But that's Hollywood. Even if takes an hour they'll do it until "I like it," he says as he toys with a director's clapboard.

The scene that Charles directed is about moral values and the things that are really important in life. The director summed up the scene: "It's about a girl who thinks she's something, but she ain't all that. This is acting, but we all know people like that in real life."

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