April 30, 1998
Vol. 17, No. 15

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    Sharing the spotlight

    Theater, friendship take center stage in new UT mentorship program

    By Jennifer Vanasco
    News Office

    What do 20-year-olds and 12-year-olds

    have in common? More than one might

    think, says College student Chloe Johnston, administrator of University Theater's new mentorship program for middle school students.

    "Each college student-middle school student pair is like an old couple by now," said Johnston, smiling. "They've taken on each other's qualities. They've become more and more alike."

    Undergraduate mentors have taken their middle school charges out for milkshakes, to see Leonardo di Caprio in The Man in the Iron Mask and to the library for tutoring.

    But those activities are secondary -- the first priority of these nine college students and nine middle school students is writing, staging and acting in a play.

    The result of their six-month effort, Telling Time, will be performed at 2 p.m. on Saturday, May 2, and Sunday, May 3, in the First Floor Theater in the Reynolds Club. The suggested donation for admission is $1 for children and $2 for adults.

    "The play is a collection of loosely related scenes in which 20-year-olds remember what it was like to be 12, and 12-year-olds imagine what it will be like to be 20," Johnston said. "And every vignette is wonderful."

    Johnston, a junior, thought up the idea for the mentorship program last year, after having worked with younger students through several other University Theater after-school programs. "With other programs, one or two undergraduates are working with 10 to 15 kids, so you don't get to know them as well," Johnston said. "But with the mentorship program, not only do you have eight other people to back you up if things aren't going well, but you really get to know the kids. Some of the undergraduates have read every book their student has read, to make sure they'll have something to talk about."

    Saket Soni is one of those undergraduates, and he mentors Alex Faraone, a student at the Lab Schools. "Alex is just brilliant," Soni said. "His ideas are refreshing and unexpected. For instance, he wrote a scene in which a Victorian butler deposes his mistress and takes over the mansion."

    And, Soni added, "He's also great fun to talk to. It's so much more than just theater."

    Soni, Faraone and the 16 other students involved in the program have been working since November on the play, thanks to a $7,500 grant from the Women's Board. They meet every Saturday morning at 10:30 a.m. ("Very early for college students. That's dedication!" Johnston said.) to play improvisational theater games and rehearse. Each mentor also meets with his or her middle school student for an hour during the week. During that time, they work on scripts and develop their scenes. The mentors have taught their students everything they know about theater, from stagecraft to the finer points of writing. The middle school students, who live throughout the South Side, come from Ray School, Beasley School, the Lab Schools, Bret Harte School and Murray Language Academy. They are in sixth, seventh and eighth grades, and although they have various degrees of theatrical experience, "they are all enthusiastic, intelligent and creative," Johnston said.

    Both groups of students are looking forward to presenting their play and enjoying the unexpected benefit of strong friendships. "We've really developed a tremendous group spirit," Soni said. "We're not just doing a play, we're working with each other and growing with each other. It is an absolutely wonderful experience."