"Prospect High: Brooklyn" - A Devised Theatre Piece

Prospect High
Prospect High: A school like this one. David McNew

Prospect High is a devised theatre piece written by high school students in conjunction with the Roundabout Theatre Company. Daniel Robert Sullivan worked with the students (Chanique Peart, Paul Stoll, Aaliyah Stewart, Deshaye Tingling, Amanda Rodriguez, Isaiah Latimer, Jaylin Acosta, Shannon Deep, Rebecca Powell, Brandy Brown, Azaria Guthrie, and Rachel Friedman), talking with them about their lives, real issues they face, and the coping mechanisms they (or people they know) use in daily life.

Discussions, exercises, and lessons in cross-cultural communication resulted in a script they call Prospect High: Brooklyn.

The play focuses on violence in high school. The question: What is the build up to a moment of extreme violence from a teenager and who is involved, and why?  Newscasts, social media, and 24 hour news networks flash stories of violence in high school and tend to only focus on one minor facet of motivation without explaining the backstory. The student authors of Prospect High: Brooklyn push back against this kind of reporting. The character Bria states in one of the final scenes, “The people [the media] don’t know what they’re talking about…they straight up miss the point…when shit goes down there’s a lot of reasons. So why are they telling us it’s about the prom, or it’s the jacket?”

This play seeks to examine the serious issues faced by teenagers, specifically teenagers in inner cities.

The issues range from transgender students to gangs to cutting. The play does not pull punches in regards to language nor does it assume any innocence on behalf of its characters or audiences. Prospect High: Brooklyn puts the lives of these teenagers in all their complicated, gritty, glory up on stage.

The characters (and authors and intended audience members) are young, but the problems they face are real and serious.

Plot Synopsis

Prospect High: Brooklyn opens with competing newscasts reporting on an episode of violence at a high school in Brooklyn: Two students captured and bound another student and were caught torturing him; breaking toes, pulling fingernails, and carving into his forehead. The reporters go on and on about violence in inner city schools, the policies that ought to be made, and the utter lack of morality that students in these schools demonstrate. What none of the newscasts examine is why? Why this act of violence and not a shooting? Why that victim? Why those two perpetrators?

It is an afternoon in the life of students and faculty at Prospect High. Bria, a senior on the brink of a full ride to college, and Andrea, a smart and outspoken freshman, meet outside the principal’s office. After much discussion about the school and its students, the two girls find common ground in Devin. Devin is Andrea’s boyfriend and Bria’s cousin. They both agree that the young man has been getting into too much trouble and letting his temper get the best of him. Devin used to be a much happier kid, but his life has taken a turn for the worse after constant bullying by Isaac.

Both girls are concerned about Devin, but neither believes that he is capable of anything more than shouting and ranting.

Anny is a transgender teen who began transitioning after her father left for a tour of duty. He only knows her as Antonio and now is back from the army early. She is afraid to go home and face him as a female, but even more afraid of throwing on a hoodie and turning back into the male person that she used to be. Andrea does her best to talk with Anny about staying true to herself and not giving up.

Mr. Charles meets with each student at various points in the play and has critical moments of discussion with each of them. He finds Andrea in the middle of cutting herself and discusses the butterfly project with her and attempts to encourage her to talk with her father about her issues instead of taking the stress of her life out on her own skin.

He speaks with Bria about her unrealistic ideas of the real world and how, whatever she thinks of it now, it will not be easy on her. Bria is furious with the teacher for failing her on a paper she wrote in pencil and not blue or black ink. She didn’t follow the rules and he failed her, just as the real world will fail her, after graduation if she doesn’t pay closer attention to the rules.

Mr. Charles also meets with Devin and, in retrospect, gives the young man poor advice. He tells Devin about how he himself was bullied as a teenager and how he still carries that anger with him. He tells Devin all the horrible things he would do to those bullies, even today, if he could only get his hands on them. He tells Devin that planning these terrible acts is a good coping mechanism not knowing that Devin has a gun in his backpack and is ready to enact revenge on Isaac that very day.

At the end of the play Devin and Bria meet up in a back hallway. Bria is writing a paper for extra credit and Devin is lying in wait for Isaac. Bria convinces him not to use the gun, but Devin insists that he must do something. He can’t continue living under Isaac’s thumb. So, they hatch a plan. Unfortunately, Mr. Charles catches them. The newscasts pick up where they left off at the beginning of the play and the audience now understands, and maybe even sympathizes with, every character and moment that led to that horrible act of violence.

Production Details

Setting: Prospect High School in Brooklyn, NY

Time: November, Tuesday 2:47pm

Cast size: This play has flexible casting. It may be performed with as few as 5 actors or as many as 18.

Male Characters: 3-7

Female Characters: 2-11

Characters that can be played by either males or females: See Production Notes below.

Roles

Andrea is a freshman at Prospect High. She is smart, outgoing, and unafraid to speak her mind to the high school seniors and faculty alike. The only person she can’t seem to talk to is her father. She takes out the stress and pain from her relationships with her father and her boyfriend on her own skin. She is a cutter.

Devin is a frustrated and bullied young man. He spends his days hiding from or fighting with another student named Isaac. Isaac seems untouchable to Devin since Isaac is in a gang and is constantly surrounded and protected. Devin, once a thoughtful and loving boyfriend, has been pushed to his breaking point. He is beginning to hatch a few plans that would take care of Isaac in a very permanent manner.

Anny is a transgender student who is very popular, beloved, and safe in Prospect High. Outside the high school, it is a different story. Her father has been away on a tour of duty and returns unexpectedly early and wants to see his son. She knows abuse at the hands of her family members and, while strong and confident in school, has real fears about life at home and after graduation.

Bria is an intelligent high school senior who was looking forward to an easy year that would guarantee her a spot at City College.  City College gives every student a full ride and since Bria’s mother is an illegal immigrant and Bria never received a social security number, she desperately needs admission to the school.

Mr. Charles is a teacher at Prospect High. The realities of day-to-day teaching in an inner-city school have beaten down any high aspirations of inspiring students or attempting to change their lives. He shows up, does his best, and then leaves for the day with a vain hope of trying to manage his own family. He is not perfect, does not give great advice, but he is there and tries to prepare the students for life after high school.

Production Notes

The script available from Roundabout Theatre Company is printed using the smallest cast number. At least five actors are needed to produce this play, but the script is built to accommodate up to 18. At the beginning of each scene there are notes indicating which actors should play in that scene if the play were to be produced with a larger cast. Due to the flexibility of the cast size, permission is granted to change all pronouns to the appropriate gender. The genders of the teachers are also flexible.

Other variations allowed are updates in music and mentions of date and time. This play is set in the present. The audience should never think that this play is a product of past events or that the problems these students face are solved. However, permission is granted for curse word substitution.

A projection of “Inspired by Actual Events” should be flashed onstage at the beginning of the play and the newscasts that follow could be live, voiceovers, or projected on screens. The overall effect of these newscasts should be that they are loud and overlapping. There should be a feeling that the newscasts are trying to compete for a better story, juicer details, and more incendiary language. This portion of the play may be a place to add more cast members or student involvement outside of the cast and crew.

Content Issues: Transgender, bullying, torture, violence, cutting, gangs, language, abuse, immigration issues, income disparity, guns, allusion to sexual violence

Production rights for Prospect High: Brooklyn are held by Daniel Robert Sullivan at Roundabout Theatre. Inquires for production may be sent to him via DanielS@roundabouttheatre.org