Middle schoolers watch their stories come to life

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Charles H. Featherstone/Columbia Basin Herald Sixth graders Emmanuel Rojas and Jessica Nila were two of the Wahluke Middle School students whose monologues were performed by theater students from Central Washington University.

MATTAWA — It’s easy to overlook middle schoolers.

Which is why several teachers at Wahluke Junior High worked with the theater department at Central Washington University to help students tell their stories in what some have called “The Mattawa Monologues.”

According to Autumn Harlow, who teaches sixth-grade English at Wahluke, about 200 sixth-, seventh- and eighth- graders were given the task of writing short monologues — stories about their lives — which were then given to the Central theater students, who picked 25 of them to perform publicly on Nov. 20 at Wahluke.

And who will be performing them again today at Central for a group of Wahluke students and their families.

“It’s always intriguing to me to hear what’s going on in today’s 13-year-old head,” said Patrick Dizney, the associate chair of theater arts at Central and a performance instructor.

“I told the kids ‘tell a story,’” Dizney said. “I emphasized, ‘make it personal. Tell us how you see the world.’ They seemed to respond to it quite nicely.”

Some followed the instructions precisely and some didn’t, Harlow and Dizney said. But it didn’t matter. Because everyone agreed that some interesting and amazing work was created, even if it wasn’t all happy or upbeat.

“Some of the content was personal and not super happy,” Dizney said. “They said, ‘People in our community are facing some challenges.’”

“It was fun just reading through them. I was very impressed,” said Annie Powers, a senior at Central majoring in theater who performed one of the monologues. “They have such important things to say. We didn’t have a hard time to find great material.”

Powers said she performed “a really heart-wrenching piece” about a girl who comes home one day to find her alcoholic father in handcuffs after he has beaten her sister.

“It was a really intense story,” she said. “In it, the girl considers suicide.”

But some students did something different, Powers said, like the one student who wrote a monologue from the perspective of a bacterium that finds a home on a cat.

“He began by writing, ‘I am a disgusting bacteria,’” Powers said.

Sixth-grader Jessica Nila, whose story about her brother being scared of riding on a roller coaster was performed by a Central student, said she enjoyed watching the Central students take her words and turn it into theater.

“It was pretty fun and exciting when they were acting,” Nila said.

“They would add a little bit extra to make it more interesting and funny,” said sixth-grader Emmanuel Rojas, who told the story of a time he was playing X-Box while looking after a baby.

Both Rojas and Nila said the enjoyed the writing part, and want to keep at it, though they also faced challenges as well.

“It took time, and sometimes I got stuck on some parts, but as I remembered, it became more easy,” Nila said.

Harlow is hoping to make these middle school monologues a regular thing at Wahluke.

“We’d like this to continue, to be something for the kids to look forward to,” she said. “To show them that if you take the time and put effort into things, something good will come of it.”

Powers, who hopes to teach high school or college theater, said the most important thing she learned from the monologues was the importance of holding every student to a high standard and giving every student a chance to speak and be heard.

“Middle schoolers don’t have much of a voice, and who’s ever heard of Mattawa? So we gave some people a voice,” she said.

Charles H. Featherstone can be reached via email at countygvt@columbiabasinherald.com.

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