January 23, 2011
As a practitioner of and theoretician on how play and performance are essential for development across the life span, I see people developing and transforming through their ensemble activities all the time—in the spaces and places where they’re invited and encouraged to actively create their performances of themselves. As much as I am able, I speak with people, young people in particular, to learn how they experience performance in their lives. I recently interviewed George Pedraza (stage name Lyric), a high school senior whom I met in 2009 at an All Stars Project youth performance he was in. Since then I’ve seen George many other times on stage and off. We’ve gotten to know each other some (which is delightful to me), as he’s become more involved in the All Stars’ youth programs overall. I share here an interview I did with him recently.
When did you begin performing on stage?
I began performing on stage when I was 14, although I’ve been singing since I was born. I’ve been performing shows for my mirror since I was like…three.
What was it like for you?
My first performance on stage that I can remember was extremely nerve-racking. I sang the song “Hello” by Lionel Richie and I actually turned out to be a hit with the crowd. The audience was really supportive and I got through it! After that I wanted to do it over and over and over again.
Do you remember when you first made the connection between performing and learning? Performing and growing?
I don’t remember actually realizing that if I pretended like I knew what I was doing in a situation that I actually knew nothing about, nobody really knew that I didn’t know what I was doing besides me. That was always a fact in my mind. I’ve been pretending my whole life, and somehow it’s worked out. It was only when I joined the development community through the All Stars Project that I realized that this was actually a way of life for many people and that it actually has a name—“performance.” The All Stars taught me what I hadn’t realized I had been doing my entire life: learning through performing beyond myself.
It wasn’t very long ago that I realized that the reason many people stop growing is because they stop learning through playing, and that many people forget how to learn because they don’t know how to play. Dr. Fulani was once giving a talk where she explained that the reason so many young people like myself are stuck and are not growing is because they’ve never had the opportunity to perform in a different setting apart from their neighborhood, meaning nobody’s called them and told them that they need them somewhere else. In Manhattan, or wherever! If that were to occur, young people in the ghettos would have an opportunity to perform beyond themselves by being in settings and situations that are foreign to them. That’s growthful!
How did you get involved with the All Stars? Tell us about what you’ve done.
I got involved in the All Stars by auditioning for the All Stars Talent Show Network in late January of 2009. I went on to win first place at the show and was selected to perform in the 2009 benefit gala. After that, I participated in the first ever All Stars Choir, the All Stars Hip Hop Cabaret, the Development School for Youth, and Operation Conversation: Cops & Kids. I am now on the production team for the Talent Show Network and I do a lot of other volunteering. I’ve also traveled with Pam Lewis to Washington D.C. to meet Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor and in 2010 I recieved the All Stars Young Leader for Change Award.
You attend a performance high school. What’s that like? How does it support your development? How does it not?
I attend Frank Sinatra School of the Arts (FSSA). It’s quite different from any other high school in this city for a number of reasons. Picture the movie “Fame.” That’s actually what it’s like at my school! The artistic development that FSSA teaches you is really top-notch, incomparable to any other public school in the city, and maybe even the country. But as far as human development, FSSA is still stuck like any other public school in New York. Play is rarely ever used, except maybe in the Musical Theater department, and you’re expected to learn what’s on the test, and graduate high school on time regardless of whether you’ve grown as a person or not.
What do you see as your current developmental challenges?
I would say that through training our development coaches for the Opening Day of UX [the All Stars’ “unique development institution, free of cost, forward thinking and open to people of all ages and backgrounds who want to grow and develop”], I’ve learned that my biggest developmental challenge is to learn how to have people develop through having them learn about themselves, rather than me telling people their flaws and teaching them to be better. Facilitating growth is very hard when you have no control over the situation!
Anything else you want to share about how you’ve come to embrace performance as a way of life?
Well, recently I had a volunteer experience that taught me something else about performing off the stage in live theater. I was at an event the All Stars Project has for every play they produce called “Pizza and a Play.” Participants in the All Stars’ youth programs get pizza and an opportunity to see a show at the Castillo Theatre. It was at this event that I made a realization. At most of these “Pizza and a Play” events, it is the first time some of the young people ever get the chance to see live theater. When watching the play, they realize that it is a completely different experience than watching a television show from their couches. It’s a completely different performance. In a theater, you can’t shout at a character and tell him not to go into the room and see what’s inside, or laugh at him and call him an idiot for doing so. It was interesting to see my fellow young audience members gasp and laugh at the show while realizing this.
I think performing as an audience member is harder than people think. The onstage performers rely on your performance, and other audience members also depend on your performance in order for them to enjoy the onstage performance. In many ways it’s similar to performing on stage. It requires concentration, enthusiasm, and energy.
I’ve learned to perform offstage everyday, but in particular, I’ve learned to perform offstage as a producer of the stage. I am a producer of the All Stars Talent Show Network. I perform in weekly production meetings about our upcoming events as we discuss how to have a successful show. I try to give my take on everything we discuss, from changing performer rules to creating the schedule of the day. I’m the youngest producer at the meetings, and I perform in a way that I’m taken seriously and that my opinion is as valuable and considered as everyone else’s. I take pride in my experience as a performer and although there are other onstage performers that are producers at the meetings, I am usually the one to kind of make sure that whatever rules and decisions are made about the talent show, they give the performers enough freedom and fun to have a good time. It’s a not a hard thing to do as the other producers are always aware and do an incredible job at producing the show!