Reflections on Signature in the Schools’ ‘Revolution’ by Eric Denver

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Back in November 2012, “about 250 student/Signature meetings ago,” playwright Joe Calarco and director and Signature Theatre’s Education Department Director Dave Zobell began their yearly collaboration for Signature in the Schools’  Revolution, which would premiere in February 2013. Five of the shows are performed just for an audience of Washington, DC metro area schools and two shows this year are public performances.

What would be more relevant than a show about the French Revolution? Since the film version of Les Miserables was scheduled for release less than a month later, The French Revolution was suddenly hot again. Yet, what started out as a play focused on the French revolution evolved into a much more complex subject matter, bringing in issues alike The Arab Spring, the Occupy movement, and the U.S. economy. The play is set in 2011 –  the perfect time frame to capture such worldly events. 

Patrick (Max Carruth) listens to the words of a Tunisian protest song, read by Basma Bouazizi (Brandi Moore) in Joe Calarco’s REVOLUTION. Photo by  Dennis Deloria.
Patrick (Max Carruth) listens to the words of a Tunisian protest song, read by Basma Bouazizi (Brandi Moore) in Joe Calarco’s ‘REVOLUTION.’ Photo by Dennis Deloria.

Revolution opens in darkness with voices on top of each other blaring out the news of the day’s events happening in Tunisia, Egypt, New York City, and Washington, DC. Lights come up and we focus on a sister sharing her story about the death of her brother Mohamed Bouazizi. After throwing oil over his body, Mohamed sets fire to himself because of his disagreements with the Government in selling fruit from his produce stand.

Mohamed’s sister (who is seen and heard by only one actor) now plays an important role in the play. As the scene shifts to a local high school classroom, the students share their efforts on how they will choose to dramatize the French Revolution, in order to earn their coveted all-important grades.  

The teacher –  Mr. Stieper’s – remark is potentially honest but simultaneously motivational when he states, “Your efforts so far are not worth getting out of bed for.” The students become re-energized and realize the importance of their assignment. The play’s dual approach allows the audience to simultaneously appreciate fully a play on two planes – what’s happening both in the world and the classroom and how the two are merged together. I walked away from this experience completely immersed in the marvel of what these students were able to accomplish.   

What’s so unique about the program, which has been actively producing these yearly thought-provoking plays for 18 years, is that all the students that are involved are from local Arlington High schools-namely H-B Woodlawn, Washington-Lee, and Wakefield, or members of the Apprentice at Signature Program. This Signature initiative program reaches over 1,000 students annually through workshops, in-class discussions and after-school programs, and had the largest turnout for auditions this year in the program’s history.  

The very talented cast members are Karl Green, Brandi Moore, Max Curruth, Amanda Smith, Sean Balick, Zak Gordon, Morgan Shotwell, Carla Astudillo, and Areil Cadby-Spicer. Evan Casey – a member of the Actors’ Equity Association and an actor who has played numerous roles in many Signature productions – takes on the role of Mr. Stieper, the classroom teacher. The 11-member behind-the-scenes student technical crew is involved with directing, stage managing, wardrobe, scenery, make-up, lights, sound, and props. During the rehearsal process, another 1 ½ pages were added to the script based on the student’s input and active participation in formulation of the final product.

There is only one more public viewing of Revolution this Monday at 7:30 PM at Signature Theatre’s MAX Theatre.

Signature Theatre and the students from Arlington County schools have successfully created a thought-provoking hour of theatre called Revolution. Don’t miss it!

Mr. Stieper (Evan Casey) encourages the students to think more deeply about the commonalities of revolutions in Joe Calarco’s 'Revolution.' Photo: Dennis Deloria.
Mr. Stieper (Evan Casey) encourages the students to think more deeply about the commonalities of revolutions in Joe Calarco’s ‘Revolution.’ Photo: Dennis Deloria.

Running Time: One hour, with no intermission.

Revolution, plays its final public performance on Monday, February 25, 2013 at 7:30 PM in the MAX Theatre at Signature Theatre – 4200 Campbell Avenue, in Arlington, VA. For reservations, call the box office (703) 820-9771, or e-mail tickets@signature-theatre.org to reserve your seat.

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