ALEA III salutes Lukas Foss, an American master, on Wednesday, March 20,
at 8 p.m., at the Tsai Performance Center

Week of 15 March 2002 · Vol. V, No. 26


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Urban dramas
They stage crime scenes to prevent them

By Hope Green

Scene: a city park at dusk. Two teenagers, Warren and Tommy, are shooting hoops when a third friend, Bobby, shows up looking panicked and hints that he's in trouble with the law. Told that a cruiser is near, he vanishes.
Five minutes later a policeman interrupts the game to inquire about Bobby's whereabouts. Warren is openly hostile to the uniformed man. After a tense verbal exchange, he shoves the officer, who responds by slapping a pair of handcuffs on him, and during the arrest he finds a joint in Warren's pocket. Warren faces two charges: assaulting a police officer and possession of an illegal substance.

  Naheem Allah directs (left to right) Brandon Folds, Austin Deleveaux, and Dana Pulido during a rehearsal of Know the Law. Photo by Fred Sway

The scene could just as well take place on a city street or subway platform. But this month it happens within the safe confines of the Boston University Theatre's Studio 210, where local youths ages 14 to 17 will perform in an educational play as the culmination of an innovative after-school program called Know the Law.

The program is a collaboration between the Huntington Theatre Company, in residence at Boston University, and the Youth Advocacy Project, a state initiative that provides legal and social services to at-risk youths.

Composed as a sequence of four interwoven dramas about teenagers in trouble, the tightly crafted 25-minute play and a postshow discussion are designed to inform young urban audiences about the Massachusetts criminal code -- and help them avoid getting a record.

Program directors say this peer-to-peer medium is a powerful tool for combating teens' ignorance about their rights and responsibilities, a knowledge gap that vexes public defenders and others who work with Boston youths in court. For the actors there are other benefits: this free training in the art of theater nurtures their self-esteem, teaches them how to work in groups, and hones their presentation skills.

Students rehearsing the basketball scene on a recent afternoon appear to thrive under the tough-love directing style of Naheem Allah, a student support specialist at the Boston Renaissance Charter School.

"He teaches us in a way that we can understand," says Austin Deleveaux, a student at West Roxbury High School. "He talks to us in a positive way, and he speaks our language."

Reena James, a soft-spoken 10th-grader from Boston High School, says she's learning how to project her voice. She plays Bobby's devoted girlfriend, Evonne.

"When you're performing in front of other people, it builds up your confidence," she says.

The program was created in 1997 by Donna Glick, the Huntington's director of education and outreach, through a grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Council. She approached youth worker Trey Brown with the idea of developing an existing anticrime workshop into a theatrical endeavor, and recruited Martin Blanco, at the time the Huntington's public relations manager, to draft a script.

Brown let Blanco attend his workshop and helped him refine the storylines and street language so they would be authentic to Boston teenagers' experience.

Taking their cue from the students, directors continue to update the dialogue. Po-po, for instance, has replaced the '90s term five-o as the popular slang for police. Participants have suggested that directors add a scene at a T stop, where many of the latest police and youth altercations have occurred.
"Martin laid a foundation for us to work with," Brown explains, "and every year we build on it."

Characters scrape with the law in four dramatic sketches. Besides Warren, there is Bobby, who is on the run after his handgun goes off accidentally and injures another boy, Evonne, who naively holds the pistol for him while he flees, and Jolene, who pulls a knife when Tommy's jealous girlfriend, Sandra, knocks her to the ground and kicks her.

After each vignette the action freezes, a narrator gives a mini-lesson, and the actors regroup for an alternate scenario where the youth behaves responsibly. Following the play a juvenile lawyer is usually on hand to help the actors and their mentors answer questions from the audience.

"Many adults who come to see this have said it needs to be in every middle school in Boston," says Glick (CFA'78). "It has this great ability to get the information out without turning kids off."

Know the Law is one of five after-school programs the Huntington offers through its education and outreach department. Participants in all of these programs receive a student club card that entitles them to two free tickets to every show by the Huntington until they turn 21.

Glick hopes to raise new grant money so that Know the Law can involve more youths in the theater and add performance dates in neighborhood venues. This season the play has one engagement at the Freedom House in Dorchester and two at the theater.

The majority of this year's participants were recruited from Youth and Police in Partnership, a United Methodist Urban Services initiative that brings together teenagers and police to solve community problems. Brown is one of its coordinators.

"We have collaborations with a lot of community people," Glick says, "but Trey is known as Mr. Huntington here. He has worked in our marketing department on audience development, he cares about the Huntington, and he knows the level of commitment that kids need to have, so he has been a great support and liaison for us."

Brown, who was born and raised in Dorchester, says that although he has never been arrested, he grew up fearing the police.

"I really didn't come across a police officer who wanted to get to know me until I was 17 or 18, and that's when the whole community policing movement started," he says. "Know the Law is helping kids understand that police are just people doing their job. It makes them look at cops in a totally different way."

Know the Law will be staged on Wednesday and Thursday, March 20 and 21, at 7 p.m. at the Boston University Theatre, Studio 210, 264 Huntington Ave. Admission is free. For more information, call Donna Glick at 617-273-1548. To learn more about educational programs by the Huntington, visit


15 March 2002
Boston University
Office of University Relations