Sporting industrial-looking costumes and a Victorian era script, 40 scholar-artists of the USC Neighborhood Academic Initiative (NAI) Theater Workshop performed an adaptation of A Christmas Carol at the Mudd Hall of Philosophy.
The goal of the workshop is to “go beyond the limits of a traditional classroom to inspire a love of literature and learning,” said Jacqueline Barrios, NAI faculty member and an Advanced Placement English literature teacher at Foshay Learning Center. “The shows we produce also provide an outlet for the students and help them discover their talents, desires and what they are capable of achieving.”
The workshop teaches literature through the performing arts at Foshay and Manual Arts High School, two members of the USC Family of Schools. It is offered to students in the USC Neighborhood Academic initiative, a six-year pre-college enrichment program designed to prepare low-income neighborhood students to succeed at a university.
“The production was beautifully staged, wonderfully acted and incredibly entertaining,” said Kim Thomas-Barrios, executive director of the NAI. “It was a testimony to the dedication of everyone involved, including the students, staff and our supportive NAI parents who stepped up when we really needed them.”
Cast and crew volunteered close to 100 hours as they designed and created costumes and props using recycled and reassembled items – all while juggling their normal schedules, which included the completion of college applications and studying for final exams.
The production received additional volunteer support from guest director Louis Fantasia, director of Shakespeare at The Huntington, a teacher-training institute at The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Center in San Marino.
While most items were donated or repurposed, students raised $500 to buy props, costumes and scenery by mobilizing parents and families who were called “Theatre Angels.”
Paul David Story, an actor and NAI staff member, was artistic director of the production. He adapted the script to portray the steampunk sub-genre – widely associated with science fiction – in order to convey the darker aspects of Dickens’ era: rapid industrialization, growth of a bustling metropolis and the plight of the poor.
Jesus Moran, one of the production’s student directors, assisted with day-to-day operations of the production, including the supervision of its actors and managing rehearsal schedules.
“I really enjoyed being a student director because I found it challenging to keep everyone in check,” said Moran, a senior at Manual Arts. “I was certainly looking forward to that last scene and that last line. It was exciting to finally see the results of all our hard work.”