Thursday, July 12, 2012

Les Mis in the South Bronx: Uprising. Love. Redemption.

I've put on a lot of plays with kids.

But I've never been a part of something like this.

For everything that's broken in our country's educational system--from the havoc wreaked by high stakes testing to the blogosphere flame-wars over school choice to the interlocking systemwide failures of healthcare, social services, and the economy that keep so many students and their families in the South Bronx struggling--and for all the challenges we continue to face in the specific day-to-day context of the school where I work--when I look at these pictures and think of the collective dedication, creativity and passion that made this year's show possible, I can't help but hold out a flame of optimism in my heart.

All throughout the process of putting on this show I've been moved and impressed by this group of students--their willingness to find deep personal connections to a show that at first seemed utterly foreign to them, their creative efforts to bring the look and feel of the show to life onstage, their ability to reflect meaningfully on the show's themes of sacrifice, uprising and unconditional love. I've been humbled watching these young people pour so much energy and work into the creation of a show that  embodies the values of fighting for what you believe in and--even in our darkest moments--maintaining faith in the possibility of transformation and redemption. No matter how exhausting it can sometimes feel to be a teacher in the current national climate, thinking back to the magnitude of the kids' efforts--and reminiscing about how much fun we had!-- the idea of throwing in the towel just doesn't feel like an option. To the barricades!

I'm intensely grateful to my colleagues--especially Dr. Geoffrey Kiorpes, Julie Feltman, Chrissy Inserra, and Miranda Small--and to all of the Bronx Prep alumni who returned to help us out.

To Denisse Polanco, my former student who helped me get this program started back in 2003 and who returned this year to Bronx Prep to teach by my side and co-direct this show with me, I'm forever indebted.

Here is a glimpse into the emotional world of the student uprisings in 19th century Paris recreated this spring by students in the South Bronx.

Congratulations to the cast and crew for putting on a truly magical show. I've never been prouder.

All photo credits: Alejandro Duran