PAHS Diversity Day Highlights "Similar Differences"

by Kathryn Gleason

Point Arena High School treated the community to a day of cultural explorations and explanations with Diversity Day last Friday. Students were bussed to the Arena Theater, and nearly every seat in the theater was filled, with parents and young children lining the walls and the entryway. After a rousing set from the PAHS band, Peer Counseling teacher Shakati Walsh and writer/director Blake More introduced the original production of "Similar Differences."

The play opened with two scenes that gave insight into two very different family lives. The first scene, the country kitchen, showed a "typical" country family---a mother (Jennifer Bowles), father (Juan Mata), and their two kids (Gail Beer and Michael Cuevas)---talking around the nearly perfect breakfast table; mom happily making breakfast, the kids interacting, and dad asking them about their upcoming class field trip to San Francisco to see the play Stomp. The other scene, the inner city kitchen, depicted empty cupboards, no milk, top Ramen for breakfast, and Manuel (Daxx Sanchez), an angry teenager whose mother (Rosie Bartel) is just coming home from her night on the streets. As Manuel stomped off the set, the stage went dark and a spotlight came up on a sky blue door painted with white puffy clouds in the middle of the stage; the door opened and black clad narrator (Heather Howell) stepped through and walked to the edge of the stage.

The play's omniscient voice, the narrator introduced the audience to "Point Arena High, a school of subcultures", and as she named each one, they walked through the door---a hick (Stewart King), a preppie (Jamil Lopez), a stoner (Daxx Sanchez), a loner (Sandra Sanchez), a drunk (Michael Cuevas), a nerd (Gail Beer), a hippie (Lacey Glaze), a phreak (Rosie Bartel), a jine (Adrienne Olson), a latina (Janet Sanchez), an intellectual (Jennifer Bowles)---and made a semi-circle around her. Then through a combination of narration, music, and spoken word monologue, the actors illustrated the unique viewpoints of each of the "subcultures." These portrayals were powerful and very believable, compete with lines that relayed a deep understanding of the paradox of high school life, including lines such as "alcohol is our excuse for being real" from the Drunk and "forever protective of our cultural values, who else will defend what is ours" from the Latina, who delivered her lines in both Spanish and English.

When the subcultures had finished speaking (to many hoots and hollers), the narrator led the audience through a philosophical review of the plays opening scenes, as the Point Arena High kids milled about behind her on the imaginary road between the city and the country, unaware that they were being watched by Manuel and his gang of tough looking city youth on the edge of the "city side" of the stage. Then without warning, Manuel approached the group of PAHS students and asked "Where are you from"; a Latino student answered "the country" and suddenly fists were flying. The fight scene was broken up by five dancing women in long flowing gowns, two dressed in red, two in blue and one in white, wielding rose petals and long ribbons (like those used by rhythmic gymnasts), whereupon the narrator tied the story together, discussing violence, its roots and origins, as well as its challenge to change, helping the audience to understand the somewhat ephemeral presentation of the gang attack which sparked this production.

Overall, it was a very powerful story, one which surprised many adults and students alike, as the kids who created and stared in the play are not drama students and their words were their own. Following the play PAHS music students presented a several song set featuring guest singer Courtney Walsh, Ian Stratton on keyboards, Travis Beall on guitar, Josh Hayward on drums, and instructor Keith Abrams on bass. Next came the lively and colorful performance offered by the Point Arena Folkloric Dancers, and finally, the show concluded with the Manchester/Point Arena Band of Pomos in full regalia doing a few of their traditional dances to the fascinated delight of the audience.

This was the second annual Diversity Day at Point Arena High School. Envisioned by Shakati Walsh, the day was funded by a Community Prevention In Action grant and Point Arena High School.


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