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Teens take pride in production of Jane Austen play

The USC Neighborhood Academic Initiative Theater Workshop co-produces two South Los Angeles performances of Pride and Prejudice

Pride and Prejudice NAI
Jenessys Herrera, seated as Mrs. Bennet, with Elise Lightburn, Ashley Martinez and Angela Juarez, from left (Photo/Kenny Contreras)

Jenessys Herrera, 16, took the stage for the first time in a musical performance of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

Featuring a cast and crew of students from Foshay Learning Center, one of the USC Family of Schools in South Los Angeles (many of them English-language learners and aspiring first-generation college students), Herrera played the irrational Mrs. Bennet in two performances on Jan. 30..

“It’s nerve-racking at first, but it becomes amazing when you know how much support you are receiving from the second family you have at the theater,” Herrera said.

The apathetic Mr. Bennet was played by Roderick Richard Jr., 17.

“This is my first time performing for my peers,” he said, “in a unique cast of all grade levels, from seventh grade to college, with people who grew to love Jane Austen and Pride and Prejudice.”

A multidimensional experience

The play wrapped up several weeks of work on the 1812 novel in a learning experience that had students writing “mini-dissertations” about Austen’s feminism or treatment of British manners, creating schoolwide “Lunch With Austen” activities (Mr. Darcy vs. Mr. Wickham in a tug of war, for example) and covering their campus walls with pop-art galleries of portraits and mosaics based on the novel.

“It has always been my vision for students to study something at this scale, taking literature or whatever is at hand in the classroom, and magnifying our learning to something larger” than life,” said Jacqueline Barrios, an English teacher at Foshay and co-director of the USC Neighborhood Academic Initiative Theater Workshop.

Set in the English countryside with props and costumes culled from thrift shops or custom-made by friends and parents of the production, the play featured an eclectic soundtrack, live piano music and original choreography.

Giving back to the community

Along with USC students, former Foshay and NAI alumni took the challenge of giving back to their community by creating the Los Angeles Talented Thespian Ensemble (LATTE), a USC student organization tasked with raising support for student productions like Pride and Prejudice.

LATTE founder and USC junior Jesus Garcia said: “It is crucial for every student to discover themselves through self-expression. I founded LATTE in order to continue providing students with the opportunity to pursue their dreams in the arts and allow them to receive the well-rounded education I had as a high school student.”

For many of the people associated with NAI, a college-preparatory pathway that links the university and the neighborhood, this production was the closest they have come to live theater, literature and the passion of performance.

“Much of acting is the subtlety of really listening to each other,” said Paul David Story, the play’s artistic director. “You have to believe, and when you believe in something, you take action. It’s wonderful to see moments when students finally transform into their character.”

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Teens take pride in production of Jane Austen play

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