Recognizing the ills of the past helps to improve the present and the future is one of the core beliefs of history teachers. By considering, analyzing, interpreting, and reflecting on events from before our time, we become more cognizant of what it means to be a human being. The ability to be essentially good comes from various influences: families, friends, media, cultural constructs, etc. However, adolescents spend a large portion of their time in school, and this is where they often investigate instances of the past and acquire contexts of which they would remain ignorant.
Such a story has been on display for WHSAD sophomores over the last month and a half as they have been engaging in creatively understanding the impacts of imperialism, more particularly, the oppression of Africans during World War I. From books, one can learn about the events of the past, but from engaging in active productions that harness student idiosyncrasies and unique sensibilities, one can internalize experiences and deposit dynamic historical topics into a cache of knowledge that is accessible for life.
And such has been the work students have done in cooperation with The Park Avenue Armory educators, Vickie Tanner and Neil Tyrone Pritchard. Sophomores have been composing tableaux that consider current societal wrongs that both are figuratively and will be literally set against the backdrop of the topic of African porter oppression as seen in The Park Avenue Armory performance, The Head and the Load.
Below, student reporters Maya Ortiz and Mayra Gomez, along with a contribution from Silas Rodriguez, provide a review of this week’s performance, and how it has helped them understand a topic that is, at best, seldom covered in the annals of history.
On December 12th, some students from the sophomore class got to experience a show at Park Avenue Armory. The Head and The Load was such a prime example of beauty in chaos. The way they made sure to incorporate a variety of ideas to show the events occurring was absolutely beautiful. Each scene built up to create a bigger picture. The actors really portrayed their characters well as the way they expressed the emotions and showed the scenes was like if they actually were enduring all the problems they were expressing. The show takes an unsympathetic look at the effects of colonialism in Africa and World War I. Throughout the show you were able to understand what was going on by the actors’ motions and the words that would appear on the screen behind them. The performance had a very panoramic setup and required full attention as action was happening from one end of the stage to the other. Everything from the costumes to the tone and words spoken grabbed the audience’s attention because the show took many different aspects that made it very hard to look away. Such as simple but meaningful words like “KABOOM” to emphasize explosions, or the sounds that made you realize they were talking about the shootings occurring right in front of them.
A select few from the group got to stay behind to take part in some activities that the Armory had set up to engage teens. They had exhibits such as “ Light your Story” ,“The Big Picture” , and “Finding Missing Voices”. During these three activities I was able to see different examples of the hardships that were occurring during that time period. I was able to watch a film in the Big Picture area that went on to further explain what the play was portraying. It gave us a chance to fully understand the history behind the show. There was even a collage set up that showed different pictures that you could put together to show the bigger picture. Each little picture had its own meaning and it may not have matched the meaning of the one next to it , but once we put them all in the same collage you were able to understand the message behind it. Overall, my friends and I really took this trip as a learning experience because it was like no other show we have seen before.
-Maya Ortiz and Mayra Gomez
This Wednesday I went on a trip to The Park Avenue Armory to see “The Head and The Load,” a play about the European conquest in Africa and, more specifically, how they unfairly employed the use of African natives to help serve their armies. While it is called a play, The Head And The Load does a lot of things differently from other shows. For one, it opts not to be a traditional story with characters and a plot. Rather it feels like a collection of themes strung together to feel cohesive. There are recurring characters there to narrate the story, yet they are just there to present the main themes and to give deep monologues about what’s going on. This ultimately works and feels like a great way to present a story and make this show unique.
Another great idea this show uses is having constant projection and shadows in the story. Oftentimes the giant shadow of what’s going on is just as effective, if not more enthralling, as watching the actors. Sometimes these projections helped get a better understanding and feel of the story when one didn’t understand what exactly is going on.
One more unique aspect of this show is that it takes elements from Dadaism, a form of art that embodies and focuses on illogical and absurd elements. There are many scenes I didn’t understand, and the show trust you to fit the pieces together yourself and make your own interpretations of what was going on. Yet, with the way the show uses projections and shadows, you never feel truly lost even when characters are yelling at each other in different languages.
A perfect word for this show to me would be intense. The show always has a message to say and it doesn’t do it in subtle ways. You can laugh in one scene and be sad in the very next one. The music too is also very good with a musical score going through the whole runtime which surprisingly goes very fast at 1 hour and 30 minutes. In conclusion, this show sheds light on one of history’s darkest moments and leaves you with many thought-provoking questions, images, and ideas that stay with you after the performance is over.