Fifteen teens from Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s “School of Theatre” interviewed elders at the North Berkeley Senior Center last week to find inspiration for monologues that they will write over the next week and perform at the senior center Aug. 15.
The students, who have been in classes since July 23 are studying theatre arts with sessions on acting, design, directing, playwriting and voice.
The interview process was the brainchild of Creative Director Laurie Lathom.
“I thought it was important for the students to do some kind of community service,” said Lathom. “They get an opportunity to tell stories that generally wouldn’t be told and to interact with some of the older people in the community.”
Many of the students in the program have participated in over a dozen plays, but most said that interviewing someone to create a character was a new experience for them.
“It was fun getting to learn about someone who has obviously had a lot of life experience,” said 15-year-old Matt Goldman from University High School in San Francisco.
“We were talking to them with the intention to know them really well so we could understand all about them and write a character based on them.
“When you have that inspiration it makes you want to lead a really good interview.”
The students, mostly in groups of two or three, each with a page of questions that they came up with during an earlier class, sat down with one or two of the elders from the center who volunteered to be interviewed.
“What is your happiest memory?” one student rang in.
“What is your greatest achievement?” asked another.
“What’s one piece of advice you would give to young people today?” another student inquired. For over an hour the students asked questions and listened intently as their partners answered.
Sometimes the answers were simply a sentence, but most of the time the interviewees cheerfully broke into long tales about their lives.
“It was different from other interviewing that I’ve done because they talked a whole lot,” said 14-year-old Alex Hersler, who has taken a journalism class at Piedmont High School.
“He told me stories about going to France during World War II and taking pictures of bridges that were bombed.
“He also edited John Steinbeck, which I thought was pretty cool. He was very proud of that.”
There were ten seniors who volunteered to be interviewed and they were all thrilled to be visited by the teens.
“This is the first time I’ve seen any teens in here doing anything like this,” said Hariet Karan, one of the people interviewed.
“I think it’s great that they all came here to talk to us. They all seemed really interested in what we had to say.”
Immediately after completing the interviews the students took out notepads and jotted down everything they could remember about their subjects, as they were not allowed to take notes during the interview.
“It was hard for me to come back and write about it because the people I interviewed didn’t really say much,” said 15-year-old Sharena McGowan from Mission High School in San Francisco.
“I did find a way to get it on paper, but it was hard because I didn’t really remember everything they were saying.”
Each of the students is now using some of the information from their notes along with some of their own creativity to form a character and a monologue that they will perform later at the senior center.
“I think they’re going to appreciate it because they liked talking to us a lot,” said Goldman, “so they’re probably going to enjoy it. We’re going to get a lot out of it too, so it will be a good experience for everyone.”
This is the first year of BRT’s School of Theatre.
The program is a four-week intensive that covers a broad range of theater arts. The program is open to students between the ages of 10 and 17.
There will be an open house to showcase the students’ work on Aug. 18 from noon to 3 p.m. at the BRT, 2025 Addison St.