The Princess of Atlantis is possessed! The possessor, a greedy sea witch, schemes to manipulate the King into building a lucrative (and environmentally unsustainable) car factory in the lost city. Help!
So goes one of many wildly imaginative narratives you’ll find at The Bushwick Starr this weekend during their 5th annual Big Green Theater (BGT) Festival, a collaborative presentation from eco-theater masters Superhero Clubhouse and a dauntless group of playwrights: fifth graders from local Bushwick schools P.S. 123 and P.S. 075.
That’s right. Fifth graders. “We wanted to create a program for kids in the area,” said Artistic Director Noel Allain as he rushed between rehearsals. Six years ago, attending community board meetings with fellow Bushwick Starr co-founder Sue Kessler, Noel noticed “a real lack of after school and arts programming in schools.” They hatched a plan: organize a green theater festival (something they already had a desire to do) with local students.
So BGT was born, an afterschool program that’s completely free for schools. Here’s how it works: From January to April, a group of fifth graders meet three afternoons per week to learn about environmental issues and write original plays centered around themes of community and sustainability. Finally, around Earth Day, professional actors perform the plays at the Bushwick Starr using only “green theater” methods.
Classroom leader Jeremy Pickard of Superhero Clubhouse and his team of teachers and volunteers (including “cult-status” figure Modesto Flako Jimenez) guide their students through the process from start to finish—from understanding a guest scientist’s lecture about climate change to writing in character for a play, a skill most students encounter here for the first time.
“The number one intention is to create an atmosphere for students to find a mode of expression, to let their imaginations run wild,” said Jeremy, who has collaborated with the project since its inception. “We try hard not to censor the students but encourage them and guide their creativity.”
This year’s results? Zombie cavemen sprung back to life after they defrost from a thawing glacier in Iceland. Personified, angry super storms that scientists must unite to stop in their damaging tracks. The Princess of Atlantis, mentioned above, whose sister is her only hope for salvation from the sea witch. Students draw heavily from fantasy and loosely from their own family relationships, tying it all together with the environmental issues they’ve spent months learning about.
BGT is on a roll. They’ve worked with P.S. 123 for the past 4 years, and after receiving nothing but positive attention from the City (in the form of a CASA grant), this is their first year expanding to a second school, P.S. 075. Who knows what’s next? Maybe students who participated in the first round of plays four years ago, now in ninth grade, will soon return to BGT as volunteers.
One last (very precious) thing! Here’s what the students themselves had to say about BGT:
Rahasia W. of P.S. 075: “My favorite part was meeting new people and actors, such as Izzy, Claire, Anna, Nada, Shantell, and scientist that helped us learn things about our Earth. Another thing I loved was doing ‘Go Bananas Exercise with Flako,’ and practicing how to write a play.”
Anthony S. of P.S. 123: “I liked letting my imagination go wild. Something new I learned that I didn’t know before were different words to describe the different types of writing we did. I also saw and learned new things about greenhouse gases.”
Samantha W. of P.S. 075: “I got to write plays about taking care of the Earth through my characters and resources. Also children I do not hang with in my grade I became friends with them. The actors helped alot to help work together as a team with each other. Thanking them alot for their help, Jeremy, Claire, Flako, and Izzy. I learned about how to use different tatics. I also learned about the different types of coral reefs and how important it is to our ocean. To keep our water and land clean.”
Madison C. of P.S. 123: “I really enjoyed working with other students to help create their plays because you can give ideas and get ideas from each other. I learned how to write plays and how to create a setting to match the play I was writing. I also never knew that writing plays was so important to lots of people and could be so much fun.”
The Bushwick Starr’s 5th annual Big Green Theater festival is this weekend. Showtimes include: Friday, 4/24, Special Benefit performance at 7 pm ($18); Saturday, 4/25, 11am and 3pm (free); Sunday, 4/26, 11am and 3pm (free). To reserve a ticket and learn more about BGT, visit their website.