By JOANNA DETZ/ecoRI News staff
PROVIDENCE — It was fifteen minutes before curtain, and the young playwrights were worried about cooties.
Friday night, just before showtime, The Manton Avenue Project’s executive artistic director Jenny Peek was patiently and firmly giving her nine elementary school playwrights instruction on the arm-in-arm group bow they would be taking at the end the performance. There was just one problem: The girls at one end of the chain didn’t want to link up with the boys on the other.
A bit of clever reshuffling, and the problem was solved. The group took its practice bow just minutes before the audience began streaming in the doors of the Met School auditorium.
The Manton Avenue Project is a direct replica of New York City’s 52nd Street Project, an arts endeavor that pairs elementary school student-playwrights with professional adult actors to create original theater. Peek served a 10-year stint as the stage manager with the 52nd Street Project before moving to Providence, where she founded the Manton Avenue Project in 2004. Friday night marked the project’s eighth season.
During each Manton Avenue Project performance, the student-playwright sits under a low spotlight while the adult actors perform his or her play, allowing the audience to witness, simultaneously, creation and creator.
Friday night’s performance, titled “Reduce! Reuse! Recycle! The environmentally REsponsible Plays,” runs through Sunday and centers around the theme of environmentalism and recycling. The show is comprised of eight short plays, each written by an elementary school student from the city’s Olneyville neighborhood.
The theme of this particular series of plays is near and dear to Peek.
Manton Avenue Project veterans Shandy Figueroa, right, and Dalia Medina helped out behind the scenes. “I was raised to be aware of the world and the environment. This theme is a reminder to kids to treat the environment with respect, and it gives them an opportunity to teach adults how to do it. Who better than kids to remind us how important it is to treat the earth well,” she said.
If Friday’s plays are any indication, the earth is in good hands with this generation. The plays, which focused on individual responsibility, featured, among other things, a reformed litterer named Old Man Bingo who takes in two endangered passenger pigeons, and a messy rat who reforms her trashy ways, thanks to an apocalyptic dream-vision of the future trashed earth. In the dream, she is informed that, “It’s your fault; you didn’t recycle. Now it’s only you and the cockroaches.”
The simple message that humans should love and care for the planet by picking up after themselves comes across without artifice and was delivered with an earnestness that was at times humorous.
During intermission, 8-year-old playwright Vianey Valdez, whose play was performed during the first act, said she had enjoyed her experience with the project because, “people can see my thinking and imagination.”
Asked what she had learned about recycling, she replied, “If you do not recycle there will not be any trees and only cockroaches.”