"Telling Our Story": an innovative AHS student production
Updated: Apr 15, 2021
In a time of enforced isolation, the current AHS (Arlington High School) theatre production focuses on collaboration. Seven students have come together as a company to produce a multi-media piece called “Telling Our Story” under the direction of 2009 AHS alumnus Aaron Aptaker.
Using a variety of techniques such as stop-motion animation, interviews, visuals with voiceover, and art work, it explores, according to Aptaker, “the challenges of the past year” and some of the ways students “have continued to find resilience and growth.” "Telling Our Story" will be shown on Friday, March 26 at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, March 27 at 3 p.m. (both with post-show discussions), and on-demand on Saturday night and all of Sunday, March 28. The production, which lasts about 30 minutes, is free of charge, and you can register for tickets here.
AHS drama teacher, Michael Byrne, brought in Aptaker, who is a graduate of DePaul University in Chicago, where he studied directing. Now audience-experience director at Steppenwolf Theatre in the Windy City, Aptaker noted that “Telling Our Story” was created through a process known as “collective creation” or “devised theatre.“ “Chicago has a rich historical tradition of devised work,” he said, “and that has had a big influence on my artistic practice.” As director of the fourth show in the AHS digital season, Aptaker (who worked remotely) said his role was to “compile the students’ projects into a finished product, but all the work in the show was created, from start to finish, by the students of the company.”
Dhruva Ram (2022), a member of the company, noted that “Telling Our Story”provides a chance to “reflect on the necessity of change and on the history of marginalized groups,” which includes “family history that has been erased and how we work to preserve it.” For him, “this year has been difficult at times, but being entirely online meant that I was able to work with theatre people from all over the country and the world.”
Maria Mantini, another member of the company (also a junior), noted that topics covered in the show include “women’s history, LGBTQ+ history, and even the history of our town.” Mantini noted that “Mr. Byrne has deemed the theme of the year to be ‘the only way out is through’ because that relates to the pandemic and the state of the world right now. I think it’s a good idea to link our theatre season with the pandemic because I believe that theatre, and all art, has the power to connect with people in a way other things can’t. I hope that when audiences watch our show, they will find some inspiration or a helpful message.”
Aptaker agreed: “one of the videos in the show is about the effects of the pandemic on AHS students and features many of them talking about how it feels to live through it. The students in the company interviewed classmates and then crafted an audio-collage that reflected various perspectives. Then we created animated visuals to accompany the students’ voices. Everyone in our ensemble is aware that we’re living in a moment of transformational change and shaping a legacy for future generations. Our show is a starting point. We’re looking to raise questions and spark conversations.”
With Aptaker as director, Byrne sees himself as functioning “like an artistic director in a professional theatre company. I hired Aaron to do something he’s uniquely qualified to do, and my role has been to trust my collaborators.”
“Aaron is passionate about accessibility,” said Byrne, “and he suggested that “Telling Our Story” be closed captioned. As a result, Byrne applied for and received funding from the Arlington Education Foundation and the Inclusion and Diversity Grant for that service. “We’re hoping this is something we can learn from and build on in the future,” Byrne noted.
Another innovative feature of the show is having audience members register for tickets. Byrne noted several reasons for this arrangement; “first, we’d like to know whom we’re reaching so we can broaden that reach.” Second, as Byrne observed, it facilitates having a “shared theatrical experience” in which “we’re gathering as a community.”
Having directed Aptaker as Cornelius Hackl in Hello Dolly! (2008) and as John P. Wintergreen in Of Thee I Sing (2009), Byrne said, “Aaron has always been an exceptional storyteller.” As the director of a new story-telling venture at AHS, Aptaker returned the compliment, “Michael Byrne reached out to me and a few other AHS performing arts alumni to invite us to direct shows, and I was impressed with his ambition in scheduling a full season of digital productions. I’m also thrilled to be able to collaborate with such a creative and thoughtful group of students."
Faculty and staff:
Aaron Aptaker, director
Michael Byrne, AHS drama teacher
Lianna Bessette, producer of Drama Guild productions