“You know when someone says a name like Marlon Brando and you say ‘Wow, in my dreams,’” says 18-year old Urquia, who recently graduated from Cathedral High School.
Urquia is one of many students who studies in the Outreach Division, which designs curriculum for inner city students on or below the national poverty level. The students are currently putting on a production of “Julius Caesar,” which plays through June 22 at the studio in New York.
“We’ve been told that kids from this income bracket are more at home in Shakespeare thank kids from middle and upper income brackets because the stakes of the characters are not foreign to them,” said Tom Oppenheim, artistic director and president of the studio. “The stakes for characters in a Shakespeare play are completely high and these kids live in high stakes.”
Acceptance to the program is competitive, and the studio is looking for students who are committed to bettering themselves.
“They have dreams and have tough situations and a tough life,” said Carlos Caldart, director of outreach. “It doesn’t matter in what place they want to better themselves. They think that it’s acting, but they’re young. I think it has a deeper meaning for all of us.”
Students have not only learned how to act, but educate and empower themselves using the arts as a learning mechanism.
“Theater has opened me up to more of society and what we need to do as human beings to make it better for our future and generations to come,” said student Lorenzo Jackson.
Though the students often hide their financial and personal problems, the staff can occasionally see the harsh realities in which they live.
“When we go into dress rehearsals there is a little glimpse of what they’re up against,” said Nina Capelli, director of cultural programming. “I’ll say to them, ‘Everyone, please where black to all of the remaining rehearsals.’ Inevitably, a handful of kids will come in with writing on their t-shirts. We try to very gently and very sensitively go up to them and say, ‘Do you have anything that’s a dark solid color?’ In every case, the face will cloud over and [they’ll] get a little defensive and say, ‘Oh yeah, I have something, but it’s in the laundry. I’m pretty sure.’”
Still, the outreach division’s motto, “Dare yourself, dream big and defy expectations,” resonates with the students.
“If you want to do something and go to bed dreaming about it every night and you think about it everyday, it’s going to seem impossible once you get there,” said Urquia. “But it’s not at all impossible. Nothing is impossible,”