Over the course of two months, WHSAD seniors explored the topic of immigration. Supported by CUNY Creative Arts Team (CAT) facilitators, Claro de los Reyes and Jose Duran, students engaged in creative processes of developing dialogue, points of conflict, and engaging narration in order to investigate numerous facets of the immigrant experience. Above, you may watch the full video of the students’ culminating presentations and below you may read some of the participating students’ takeaways.
The collaboration with CUNY CAT Generation Immigration program was funded by the Walentas Family Foundation.
Ian Perez Florian
Working with Claro and Jose has brought into light some hidden potential that I never knew I had in myself. Through these sessions with the educators it allowed me to explore in a broader sense the theme of immigration migration and how some tools like character design, setting, dialogue and monologue are tools into demonstrating a greater understanding of the story we’re trying to tell. Hearing feedback from my peers not only helped me improve my dramatic writing but it also served as a reminder that these steps a character takes are impacted by their setting and motive which was one factor that I took into consideration when constructing the dialogue.
Some inspiration that I had when creating my dialogue was my father. I tried to come up with a story inspired on his real life experiences and tie it into the theme. Some examples of this would be him leaving his family to come to America for a better life and the conflict he had with his family when leaving. Doing this project allowed me to express complex thoughts about the differences in culture. In my dialogue I gave the reason why my character wanted to leave: he was in an unfortunate place and wanted to leave into a more fortunate place which was America to pursue his dreams rather than be a farmer.
Overall, I loved working with Claro and Jose as well as hearing the other pieces of writing that my peers constructed and presented. It has taught me that immigration migration comes in many different forms, some more complex than others, and through our writing we can express that type of form for our audience to enlighten them as to our perspective.
Students of WHSAD were granted an opportunity to work with the program CUNY CAT, a program that focused on the importance of writing, creativity, and freedom of expression. Students worked with Claro and Jose, two respected actors and teachers, while focusing on the main topic of immigration. Students created characters to express the different difficulties and challenges that came with immigration. Some popular themes among the writings were how people react to the opportunity of immigration and how situations were different for each person after they were able to immigrate.
I found this class to be very powerful because it allowed students to speak from their family’s personal experiences and showed how difficult it can be to immigrate, both on a physical and emotional level. This class caused students to look at different situations from a much larger perspective and become more understanding. When sharing the stories they had created, students were able fully to express themselves and the emotional aspect of their writing by acting out their monologues and scripts.
Through detailed explanations and acting, students were able to highlight key details such as how a character’s setting and relationships could impact the decisions they made. How, for some families, the entire process or thought of immigration could seem negative and daunting. These perspectives also illustrated the connection and issues currently found regarding the topic of immigration. Immigration is a very large and pressing topic throughout the world. This connection between acting and writing helped to accentuate this point and also, in a way, helped show all sides of immigration: from the perspective of those who chose to immigrate or were forced to immigrate, the impact on the families and relationships related to immigration, and even the perspectives of those who lived where the person was immigrating to.
Overall the entire class helped to bridge writing, acting, and the present day together. It allowed students to step out of their comfort zone and also learn the importance of taking in the bigger picture and keeping an open mind. The pieces each student came up with were also extremely impressive and from listening to the presentations, you could tell students put a lot of thought into their writings. I believe that the class was very beneficial for students and helped students voice out their experiences and understandings of the topic of immigration.
As we near the end of our high school experience, our class was introduced to CUNY CAT. This organization introduces students to the art of theater and drama. This form of art acts as a driving proponent for CUNY CAT’s mission. This in turn helped us reimagine and discuss certain social paradigms. Collaborating with CUNY CAT has been nothing short of remarkable. At first, my class and I were skeptical. Not many people within WHSAD displayed interest in theater. However, once we gave it a chance, it was refreshing to have a new perspective. For this year, the topic was Generation Immigration. Mr. Claro and Jose were our mentors/teachers for CUNY CAT, and both they and their lessons were extraordinary.
Our class was first introduced to Mr. Claro. My initial impression of him was that he was relatable through his personality and approach. Claro first expanded on the concepts of monologue, dialogue, protagonist, and antagonist. Said concepts are the fundamental catalyst for interaction, from the theater to day to day interactions. As our sessions progressed, Claro showed us modern day references of these concepts to appeal to our interests and clarify any points of confusion. For instance, anime is a popular form of entertainment for our generation. He showed us clips of certain anime to exemplify the fundamental concepts. Such modern day references aided us to begin our own dialogues and monologues.
For my piece, I wanted to deviate from the typical associations with immigration. I decided to take inspiration from John Milton’s epic poem, “Paradise Lost.” In layman’s terms, it is bible fan fiction that portrays Lucifer in a more sympathetic light. My interpretation of this story is parallel to forced immigration. Moreover, I wrote my monologue from a first person narrative to make it more relatable. This first person narrative acts as the protagonist. They confront the antagonist being, “them,” about being hypocrites towards the protagonist even though they have the same mindset and intention. When my peers and I presented our work, it was invigorating. Being able to express not only my creative mindset but also my passion for writing was an honest experience. I am very much an overthinker, but I have utilized it to my advantage. Because of CUNY CAT, I will further pursue writing for myself but also for others.
CUNY CAT’s program on Generation Immigration was one of the best extracurricular experiences I have had. Mr. Claro and Jose did a great job over the couple weeks we were together to introduce and dive deep into screenplay and screenwriting. They showed us many great examples, and I loved the activities we did over the course of the program. Participating in this experience made me realize how much I love what goes on behind the scenes of a performance and what parts come together to make a deep and intriguing story. I was super interested when learning about different aspects of creating stories such as developing a character design, formulating dialogue, understanding the importance and power a monologue could bring, and visualizing then using different techniques to bring a good setting to life.
I liked that Claro and Jose showed us examples not only from their own work and others from CUNY CAT but also behind the scenes from short films such as those from Pixar. One example that Claro showed was a short film called “Wind,” in which a young boy and a grandma are stuck in a deep hole where wind blows from underneath them, making it seem like they are almost in space with large rocks hitting each other and breaking like asteroids. They both want to get out of the situation they are in, especially since their lives are in danger due to the rocks coming closer and closer to destroying the home they have built. The boy eventually manages to scavenge a plane fuselage that they then turn into a rocket ship, the only problem being that the ship is too small for both of them to fit. The grandma promises that she will come with the boy but ends up pretending to attach herself to the ship when in reality she attached a picnic basket for the boy. When the boy manages to get out, he realizes what the grandma did and while he is sad he is also grateful for her sacrifice. The reason that I like this short film so much is because there were zero words spoken throughout it. Even though there was no dialogue, the artists and directors still managed to show so much emotion and tension through the characters and environment around them. That’s what impressed me the most and without CUNY CAT I don’t think I would have been able to appreciate such a film as this.
Now, for the final project I decided to create a monologue that would act as an internal discussion. I tried to implement voice lines that would make it seem the character was with other people but so the audience didn’t hear them because they were mostly unnecessary besides establishing the setting. I wanted the character to almost get a “blast from the past” experience where they uncovered an artifact that was important to them and that represented their origin and how their family came to America. Using an artifact was something that we focused on heavily throughout the program, and I was able to utilize those lessons to my advantage in my creation. I was able to center the whole story around it and allow the character to form the story from the artifact. This story was highly inspired by my parents, and knowing their story helped me sort of mash them together and create one story that represented their struggles and their emotions and feelings when coming to America for the first time.
I loved the experience and lessons that CUNY CAT was able to bring this year. Claro and Jose did an amazing job teaching us about screenplays and how to look inward and around us to learn and understand where we come from. As Claro said in one of his acts, nobody is just a stump, they have roots, even if you may not realize it.