Being an early college student begins in 6th grade at HLA. Your first day of middle school you begin the journey that leads to graduating with anywhere from 3 credits to an Associates Degree. Balancing high school and college at any level is delicate and rigorous, but the strength of the ECI program at HLA is more than the number of credits students earn (which is extraordinary) – it is the experiences that are cultivated for them by professors as college students. One example of that is the Intro to Theatre Writing Intensive that was taught for us for the last several years by Professor Camilo Almonacid.
Professor Almonacid taught Intro to Theatre and Acting for HLA for over 3 years – every single semester (including winters!). His curriculum was inspired, purposeful, impactful and a lot of work – but it centered student’s – their voices and experiences in a way that students left every one of his classes empowered.
I am including an excerpt written by Professor Almonacid about his experience with the Introduction to Theatre class – what shines through to me is his immense respect for his students and his passion for what he does. See this originally here.
At the bottom are the three videos of plays written by our current graduating class and performed, director and produced in collaboration with Sand and Sky Designs – these were selected by a competition with the Play Writing Festival.
I am grateful to have gotten to work with Camilo – and look forward to our paths crossing sometime in the future.
My first semester teaching the Intro to Theater Writing Intensive course at Hostos Community College was during the winter of 2017. I worked with a Ph.D.fellow from the Writing Across the Curriculum Program. It was a nine-month process and I had to be certified and create a syllabus from scratch. I knew that the ideas I put into the course were solid but I wasn’t absolutely sure that the students were going to like the class or let alone like me.
That first morning, I was the most nervous person in the room. I started the usual way a college theater class starts, by making everybody do what they least want to do at 8 am on a Monday morning with a bunch of strangers. Throwing tennis balls, saying our names, and repeating them out loud with movement, making gestures to represent our personalities and a whole bag-full of other ice-breakers, games, and activities. It was a slow start, but 15 min later these humans who were once yawning and looking bored out of existence were smiling, moving, talking, snapping, clapping. By the end of the first day, a 3-hour class—-I knew I had a special group. It was extra special too to get to take them to see live theater at 59e59 Theaters an off-broadway venue presenting (at the time) a one-act play festival. It was perfect because, for our class, they would also be writing a one-act play.
I was thinking they were going to be bored to death or resent that assignment. Again, the opposite occurred! They loved the experience and were so engaged by the plays. Afterward, we went for pizza and they couldn’t stop talking about it.
I told the class they had an option for the final. We could do a traditional exam, with essay questions or instead, we could end with a celebration of the work and I would bring professional actors to read their scripts in class. They went with option 2:)
We spent the next few weeks working rigorously. I would stay after class because students wanted to talk about craft or ask questions. Other times, they needed space to actually do their work. The day the actors came we had a potluck and everybody brought something We had an international feast!! We organized the space in a semicircle and we read 6 scripts. The actors brought it to life and the room was in awe. I’m lucky to have some super talented friends and colleagues that lent their talents for the cause.
It was undeniable for those of us present in the room that day, what we witnessed was magical. We built community but also used art and theater to empower. The plays were rich and came from perspectives that American theater audiences rarely see. From that day forward a tradition began.
The Playwriting Club was started by 5 students from that first semester and they asked me to be the club advisor and I accepted. We did this every semester for all the classes that I taught. The club sponsored the readings and the field trip to see a show. We also got food, drinks and now we were able to offer the actors a modest stipend.
In the spring semester of 2020 when covid hit, my students in the Bronx were on the frontlines. Moving online with no prep was so challenging. That semester was the first time we couldn’t do a sharing but the plays that were turned in were so powerful and should be put inside a time capsule for the future citizens of the world to read about what it was like during the quarantine time in NYC In Fall 2020, we were still online but I was more prepared for online teaching and had an amazing group of high schoolers from Hostos Lincoln Academy (part of the Early College program.)
The plays you are watching, or that you watched, or are about to watch were all born out of the Intro to Theater Writing Intensive class, the work is written by the students, and has been selected out of a class competition sponsored by the Playwriting Club. Sand and Sky Designs has collaborated with the club to help deal with the fact we couldn’t be in a room together.
We did the next best thing; a Zoom recording!!!
Give it up and show some love for these young playwrights’ bravery, maturity, and insights.