By Terry Dean
Oak Park and River Forest High School's anti-violence campaign from last week concluded on Monday, with a play featuring students sharing stories from their peers and teachers about how violence, and love, affects them.
The Little Theater at OPRF, 201 N. Scoville, hosted "The Starfish Project," directed by OPRF English teacher Avi Lessing. The play ran over the weekend and concluded with afternoon and evening shows on Monday. The play was based on interviews the performing students did with their classmates and teachers.
"We interviewed over 60 people and transcribed over 680 pages and out of that material we're performing 30 or so monologues, closer to two minutes in length, using only the words of the interviewees," Lessing said last week, prior to the play's March 15 debut.
It was an interesting contrast to how last week started, with a well-intentioned student assembly about violence that went off track. Representatives from Arlington Heights-based Alexian Brothers Health System, spoke at the assembly but their presentation offended students and staff in attendance, in particular the use of words like "colored people" when the topic of race was broached. Some students also felt the representatives were blaming black people for Chicago's violence.
OPRF Principal Nathaniel Rouse wrote a letter of apology to OPRF families following the assembly, describing the presentation as "preachy and unfocused" and that it "missed the mark for our community."
But OPRF's week rebounded. According to the school, several of the weeks planned activities were well-attended by students and staff. The aftermath of the assembly even sparked "positive discussion" among students and adults around race.
And the Starfish play gave students a chance to look at broader issues around violence.
"It's this idea that we all exist on a continuum of love and violence, and sometimes those two things are mixed together," Lessing said. "And while we get messages all of the time that violence and love are outside of us—something that bad people do, or something that happens to good people magically—I think when we address these topics up close and personal; we see that students especially, but adults too, are always struggling with issues of love and violence, such as relationships, aggression, self-harm, shame…these issues are often what determine if we're happy enough, if we feel safe or not."