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Wednesday, February 21, 2018

New play explores high school dropout crisis

"Disengage" play at Rising Youth Theatre

Rehearsal for “Disengaged” with director Xanthia Walker at Phoenix Center for the Arts. Photos courtesy of Rising Youth Theatre.

Why do teens drop out of high school? Most of us assume our kids will graduate, so we rarely consider the question. But the high school dropout crisis affects us all, especially when those without degrees struggle to make their way and find work in our communities.

A group of Valley youth has been working for several months with Rising Youth Theatre in Phoenix—which specializes in creating socially relevant theater—to develop an original play that addresses the high school dropout crisis. They brought in Tucson playwright Milta Ortiz, who wrote “Disengaged,” a play based on conversations with youth and professionals who work with those who have left school without graduating.

“Disengaged” is being performed Friday, Dec. 5 through Sunday, Dec. 7 at Phoenix Center for the Arts. The cast of nine includes two professional artists and seven youth ages 14 to 18. Five cast members, plus a student serving as assistant stage manager, attend Genesis Academy in Phoenix, an alternative high school that helps students gain the necessary skills, behaviors and attitudes to enter college or the workforce.

Seeing “Disengaged” is a way to support these students’ work and start conversations about school challenges with your own children. The play runs about 75 minutes and is best for middle school students and up. Tickets are $10; those who can’t afford to pay won’t be turned away.

Getting ready to perform

Cast and creative team for "Disengage."

Rehearsal meeting for “Disengaged.”

Watching a recent rehearsal for “Disengage,” I was struck by the cast members’ dedication to crafting a quality piece of theater. They listened intently to director Xanthia Walker, treated each other with respect and showed plenty of patience in dealing with the fine details that go into finessing such a play.

They left me wondering about ways we can better support struggling students and the role theater can play in engaging those at risk of dropping out of school. Maybe we have failed to recognize how theater can help them develop problem-solving skills and give them fun experiences that make them want to head to school every day.

Instead of proffering concrete solutions, Rising Youth Theatre seeks to raise the issue within the context of young voices. Walker and co-founder Sarah Sullivan hope that viewers of “Disengaged” will give more thought to the crisis and ways they might become part of the solution.

Performance details

Rising Youth Theatre has evening productions of “Disengage” on Friday, Dec. 5 and Saturday, Dec. 6. Matinee performances are on Saturday, Dec. 6 and Sunday, Dec. 7. All performances are followed by a talkback (a post-show discussion with the cast and staff) exploring themes in the play. Learn more.

Find more theater, music and dance productions on the calendar.

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Lynn Trimble

Lynn Trimble of Scottsdale is an award-winning arts writer and mother of three grown children whose work has appeared in Raising Arizona Kids and Phoenix New Times.

Copyrighted material. All rights reserved. This content may not be published, rewritten, broadcast or redistributed without permission of the publisher.

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