I often credit the power of playwriting with the success that Roots and Action: Building Community is having in schools. Even though the drama-in-education workshops are the core of the program, I believe the play Literal, which opens each residency, is what engages students and moves them to participate throughout the whole process. Two young Puerto Ricans with very different realities meet on an airplane while traveling from the United States to Puerto Rico. Through this encounter, both characters realize that they are more alike than different, and that they share the fear of inheriting a country with such an uncertain future. We perform Literal in the classroom, not in a theatre, auditorium or gymnasium (a luxury few public schools here can afford anyway). There is such power in transforming a classroom into a theater, in changing it into a space where one learns in unimaginable ways that challenge the norm. The play leaves the audience with more questions than answers, prompting students to think deeply and critically about topics like identity, the trauma left by Hurricanes Irma and María, issues affecting their communities and how to take action to create a new Puerto Rico. After the play, we always do a hot-seating session where the audience has the chance to ask the characters questions about their lives. Many times, the students believe the characters are real people telling their stories. As a result, students dare to open up in ways their teachers cannot believe. Once, a student shared her struggle with schizophrenia; many have told their devastating stories about the hurricanes; while others, like one of the characters in the play, express that they cannot simply give up. Same here. It is our Puerto Rico after all.
For more information about the program: www.rootsandaction.org