SARASOTA — Graduate students of the Florida State University/Asolo Conservatory for Actor Training are on a mission to discover what makes a middle school student tick.
Their findings will be used for a new, authentic, documentary-theater production called “Life in the Middle,” highlighting the life of tweens. The innovative play, part of the Asolo Repertory Theatre Company’s New Stages project, will premiere Oct. 16 at the Historic Asolo Theater and will run through Oct. 30.
Since Tuesday, the actors have visited Manatee County middle schools, interviewing students about the joys and challenges associated with adolescent life. They will continue the interviews for two weeks. Students from Sarasota County also will participate.
The outreach project will be one of lasting results, said Brian Hersh, the theater’s education and outreach director.
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“What we know documentary theater does is that it ignites questions,” he said. “It sparks dialogue.”
That dialogue can run the gamut of bullying to peer pressure, issues the theater will further address with students and teachers through a series of workshops later in the year, Hersh said.
The play and subsequent workshops will meet Sunshine State Standards for Language Arts, Social Studies and the arts.
“Life in the Middle” director KJ Sanchez — who directed last season’s New Stages project based on the award-winning youth book, “The Giver” — believes it is important for adults to understand the world of adolescents.
“I feel very passionately about this age,” said Sanchez, who spent Monday prepping Conservatory students for this project.
“Between 11 and 14 is very much the fall-between-the-cracks time in one’s life. My main focus is give them voice.”
The actors have asked students to share their life experiences, how they see themselves, how they feel others view them and their struggles of venturing into adulthood.
All answers will be kept anonymous, said Sanchez, who will create a script as information is gathered.
Rehearsals will begin mid-September.
In turn, the actors have learned how to create their own material, which is key in surviving today’s entertainment industry, said Sanchez.
Sanchez, the associate artistic director at Two River Theater Company in Red Bank, NJ, has developed 12 plays on a variety of issues through this documentary process — most notably, “ReEntry,” about life in the United States Marine Corps. “ReEntry” will open off-Broadway next spring.
Because of Sanchez’s past work, Hersh believes “Life in the Middle” will have a strong impact on youth. Good theater always does, he said.
“We can use theater as an educational tool to help character education workshops and discover and enhance identity,” he said.
January Holmes, features writer, can be reached at 745-7057.