Ever wonder what it would be like to see Lawrence through the eyes of someone else?
Visitors to area parks this weekend will get a good idea of what the city looks like from the point of view of teens from “Home on the Road,” an original production by the Lawrence Youth Ensemble.
Kids ages 13-18 wrote the play’s script and are starring in the show, which is a collection of vignettes and monologues that will be performed on Friday, Saturday and Sunday at local parks.
This weekend’s show has been a long time coming, says Rachael Perry, co-director of the ensemble. The group, which is in its second year of directing a summer camp at South Park, received a grant to work on the play from the Points of Light Neighboring program. The ensemble and the Roger Hill Volunteer Center received the grant specifically for the play as part of an “ongoing effort to create plays that celebrate community, strengthen family life and encourage good neighboring practices,” according to the Points of Light Web site. As part of the project the kids involved are volunteering at the Social Service League, Perry says.
The playwriting aspect started in January, with numerous teens contributing to the project, including the nine cast members. Meeting each Wednesday night, the teens bounced ideas off each other and worked together to create a cohesive script that celebrates Lawrence, says Perry.
“It’s a lot of little vignettes about all different aspects of Lawrence. It’s interesting because you get a sense of how the teens are looking at Lawrence, how this next generation is kind of viewing what’s going on here. But it’s interesting how insightful they are about a lot of different aspects about the community,” Perry says. “So, I think it’ll be a really fun play for anyone that’s lived in Lawrence to see because of those little references.”
The chance to take an idea from its infancy to the stage was something very appealing to Anna Taylor. Taylor, 14, had acted in plays in school and with the Lawrence Arts Center, but she had never been included in the writing process.
“It was really fun, it was really good to actually be part of making it the script and not just, ‘This is your character, and this is how they are,’” Taylor says. “It was really good for me.”
Taylor became involved after going to a call for actors this spring. As it happens, she brought along a friend who is nearly her polar opposite, Amanda Williams. Williams, 15, had never really acted but had plenty of writing experience. Both girls were cast, and the shy Williams says that the experience has been invaluable in helping her come out of her shell before heading to Lawrence High next fall.
“I’ll know how to actually come up to people this time, and I’ll be able to interact and maybe I’ll be into drama, because I never was able to before because I didn’t really know how to do anything,” Williams says. “I’ll be able to talk to people easier because I’m having to do it now, because I don’t have a choice. I have to get used to the people because I’m going to be acting around them.”
Williams’ mother, Teresa, is also pleased with the program which has so engaged her daughter.
“It gives the kids a chance and the teens a chance to do something different for the summer, and gives them a chance to maybe open the doors for other areas as well,” Teresa Williams says. “She said she made new friends, and I think that’s wonderful.”
Because of the perils of obtaining annual grant money, Perry and her co-director, Michael Bradley, aren’t sure if an original play will be a yearly occurrence for the program, but Perry says even if “Home on the Road” is a one-time thing, it’s been an enriching project.
“It’s been a great learning experience, for both us and the kids, how to take stories and translate them to stage and then put them in kind of a good order,” Perry says. “The play is going to be really funny, I think there are some dramatic moments, too, but the kids have great senses of humor.
“It’s amazing the sense of pride that the kids we’re working with have in Lawrence.”