Lovejoy and CTE students produce One-Act for the spring festival

Courtesy+of+Michael+Lovejoy

Courtesy of Michael Lovejoy

By Naomi Lenchner

Tamalpais High School’s Conservatory Theater Ensemble will perform a play within the One-Act Festival in collaboration with students from Michael Lovejoy’s day class on May 25 and 26.

“About ten years ago, through Youth and Arts, which is a great program based out of San Rafael, there was a grant written by Melissa Briggs, who was our first guest artist from Youth and Arts,” Tam special education teacher, Michael Lovejoy, said about the inception of the Lovejoy-CTE One Acts. “She worked together with our speech therapist, Sophie Mills, our classroom, CTE, and Ben Cleveland.” 

 Lovejoy saw the collaboration with CTE as an imperative opportunity for his students. “Sometimes students in this class might have a small voice or may be not verbal at all. So this gave them a voice. I think that’s the purpose of art: to share our feelings with others, even if we don’t have words for it. If I look at a picture by Monet, there are no words, but I have a feeling about what he’s trying to share with us,” Lovejoy added.

This year, each drama student acting in the One-Act pairs with a student from Lovejoy’s class, and together they work to showcase a dream one of the Lovejoy students has. The program is performed live, with a unique concept and interactive story structure. 

Tam juniors and Advanced Drama students Emma Korolev and Savannah Levy are directing the collaborative play this year, as they acted in it last year. “The Lovejoy kids buddied up with the sophomore actors, and they came up with dreams, so there are five partnerships and five dreams and made it into a game show,” Levy said. “We’re going to have a wheel and spin it to choose a dream. and all of their dreams are unique and fit their personality and their abilities.” 

Along with the anthology structure of the play, Levy and Korolev have adapted the play to showcase and fit the abilities of the featured students.

“Haim is non-verbal, but he knows sign language, so we sign all the play titles before the scene and we teach the audience as well,” Levy added. 

“It feels good [to be in the One-Act],” Caden Wickliffe, a student in the program, said about his experience working with the CTE students. “I like seeing my friends in different classes. I play a rockstar in a concert, it’s something I want to be. [Some of my favorite songs and artists are] Dancing Queen, Michael Jackson, and Bruno Mars.” Wickliffe flew to a concert in Las Vegas and saw Bruno Mars the week before, and a week later he played one in his One-Act.

Julianna Rees, CTE’s co-artistic director who runs the Tam Drama program along with Ben Cleaveland, coordinates the One-Act with Lovejoy. Rees has been a CTE guest artist since 1989 and has been a full-time CTE teacher for four years. 

“I’ve been involved in the disabled community since I was a teenager. One of my mom’s best friends had a late-in-life baby who was severely disabled,” Rees said. “And so when I was about 15 or 16, we took care of him several days a week.” 

She continued her work in the disabled community after her teen years as well, “When I went to college, I started working with paraplegics, blind and deaf students, and people with other kinds of impairment. It’s basically been a lifelong interest of mine and I’ve devoted a lot of my professional life to it as well,” Rees added. 

Lovejoy and Rees both echo that sentiment that the One-Act featuring their students is as much about the experience and journey as much as the final product.  

“It’s great for physical therapy, for speech, but it’s also just incredibly good for socialization. For the drama students, it’s incredible, too,” said Rees. “They have to be in the moment all the time. As much as we rehearse, they also have to be improvisational.” 

The fluidity of the play allows the students to use the relationships they built with each other to improvise and guide the play. “The most exciting thing about making theater is generosity. And this is just an incredibly supportive and generous process. So they end up being the best guests in the program going forward,” Rees added. 

Lovejoy spoke about how he sees the play as a place to showcase the voices of his students, which are so often overlooked and marginalized as differently-abled students. 

“Sometimes students in this class might have a small voice or maybe not verbal at all. So this gave them a voice,” Lovejoy said. “I think that’s the purpose of art: to share our feelings with others, even if we don’t have words for it. If I look at a picture by Monet, there are no words, but I have a feeling about what he’s trying to share with us. So over the last ten years, especially once Juliana became our guest artist and our mentor, it really has been a wonderful collaborative effort.” 

Jack Hochschild, a sophomore at Tam and CTE student participating in the Lovejoy One-Act, spoke about how the experience changed his perspective as an actor and a person.

“It’s been interesting, definitely different from any play we’ve done before,” he said. “I think most of it’s about learning what’s possible, how we can get things done differently, and how we can overcome barriers that come with special needs. You have to take the perspective of your partner [in the Lovejoy program], and it made me better at understanding what everyone around me is feeling and how they are thinking.” 

As the CTE actors, the Lovejoy actors, the directors, and supporters prepare for the play on May 25 and 26, they share the common goal of working to create empathy, understanding, and visibility for the disabled community, at Tam and everywhere else. 

“Normally when people see others who are different, they see the difference. And to be honest, it makes them afraid,” Rees said. “They either can’t confront their own awkwardness or they are afraid that they’ll say something wrong. But when they see the Lovejoy project, they just see all this joyful, normal: humanity.” 

Rees also hopes the impact of the play will extend beyond the stage. “My hope is that when they see anybody who’s differently-abled in a public space, in Safeway, in Target, or anywhere else, they’ll make eye contact and smile. If we continue to replicate this, there will be now hundreds of thousands of people who have that experience.”