A cast of District high school students chanted the words "I believe in me, I believe in you" as they attempted to give fellow students a back-to-school shot of self-esteem last week.
In what they described as a "self-awareness" musical, the 43 students performed "Getting Ready for Tomorrow" at Bald Eagle Park. Its message: Here's what your life might be like if you don't believe in yourself.
Cast members dressed as drug addicts, derelicts, wallet snatchers, streetwalkers and truants to give a vivid demonstration of the choices facing young people today.
The play is the story of a group of people who have given up on life, believing they have no future.
They are encouraged to continue their complacent lifestyle by Mr. Tate (Agitate), played by Daniel Harrison of McKinley High School. Mr. Tate calls himself the leader of the "passive people."
While strolling through the park, Mr. Tate finds new prospects for his group of "passive people:" high school students playing hooky. Tate convinces some of the students to join his group so they won't have to worry about disappointments or problems. "Nothing is in your future; there is only now," he says.
But two of them refuse, saying they won't become part of "the living dead." They try to save the others.
"For all the evil in the world," says one of the students, "there's some good all around, too. And no matter what disappointments there may be in life, I will continue to fight and move forward and never look back."
The play's author and producer, Grace Bradford, said she thought the play had something important to say at a time when many young blacks are worried about how President Reagan's budget cuts will affect them.
"It's my feeling that most of our kids need a strong feeling of who they are," said Bradford, supervising director of music for D.C. Public Schools. "I think that is probably one of the first things they need to do better in their subject area."
Cast members went through a self-awareness process themselves while rehearsing the play. Students were chosen for the cast in auditions held at the end of the school year. They spent five weeks in training.
"We worked the first two weeks on self-awareness skills," said Thomasina Portis, project director. "We worked on who they are in relation to their family, friends, groups, communities and their responsibilities to these same people."
Deedra Williams, 15, of Southeast Washington, said she found a lot of herself in the character she portrayed and has learned from the experience. She played an aspiring dancer, which she is. A graduate of Kelly Miller Junior High School, she plans to audition for the Duke Ellington School of the Arts.
"My character that I played was a passive girl going around thinking she could really dance and not try to get any basic skills," said Williams. "That seemed like me because I would just sit around (and not try to practice dance techniques). But now when I sit around I find myself stretching instead of wasting a lot of time when I know I really want to be a professional dancer.
"I am more aware of myself and other people's feelings," she said. "And every time we perform I concentrate or focus on one or two people, especially the ones who sit around and look like they say, 'Yeah, I can do it too.' I try to make sure these people are smiling at the end of the performance."
The group has performed the play in parks and recreation centers throughout the city. Performances are planned throughout the rest of the summer and in schools during the fall.
The audience at Bald Eagle Park seemed to get the message.
Joining in giving the cast a standing ovation, 18-year-old Teresa Myers of Oxon Hill, Md., said she thought the play was inspiring. "I really thought it put out a good message," she said, "because me, myself, I didn't graduate (from Oxon Hill High School). And if I had seen the play before I finished school, I would have had confidence in myself and I wouldn't have goofed around. I felt inferior to everybody. I felt as if everybody was better than me. . . . It (the musical) put out a good message to me: to succeed and not fail again."
Bradford's production was sponsored jointly by the D.C. Public Schools, the Associates for Renewal in Education, the Department of Employment Services, the D.C. Department of Recreation and the National Park Service. The Department of Employment Services provided summer jobs for most of the production's participants, including 40 of the 43 students, two full-time teachers and one part-time teacher.
The three students who are not getting paid came into the program after the application deadline but still wanted to participate in the play, Bradford said.
"I went to the schools and auditioned the students and I told the ones I chose to put in their applications for a summer job, knowing I would not get everybody I wanted. Some I didn't get," Bradford said. "After we didn't get all we wanted to get initially, we found that we could use some of the students who had already put in applications for summer jobs and had talents we needed. So they were transferred to our program."