Dramatic things are happening to the drama club at Hallandale High School.
“A huge deal, you have no idea, a major shock to us,” said sophomore Jeremy Fuentes.
The theatre program just won a $10,000 grant from NBC and the Educational Theatre Foundation. It’s called the R.I.S.E. America grant, which stands for Recognizing and Inspiring Student Expression, and it’s inspired by the new NBC drama, “Rise,” which is about a high school theatre department’s impact on a working-class community. Hallandale High is one of 50 schools to win out of more than a thousand that applied.
The cash infusion puts the school on a level playing stage, so to speak, with wealthier schools. Most of the students at Hallandale High get free or reduced lunch. A lack of money, not a lack of talent, always restricted what the drama troupe could do.
“40 minute plays where there’s no set, no costumes, very few lights if they were working, and with these funds we can do big productions, we can have costumes, we can buy the rights to “In the Heights,” said drama teacher Kayla Mason.
For the kids, winning the R.I.S.E. grant means more than being able to do bigger productions. It’s also a form of validation.
“That we actually have potential, and we actually can do something more than what we think we are capable of,” said Kylea Starr, a junior in the program.
“It just tells us that we have the same opportunity as any other school, and other schools that have more funding than us,” added Jeremy Fuentes.
Jeremy and the other kids say the characters in “Rise” often mirror their own lives outside of school, with hardships such as poverty, divorce, and needing to help raise younger siblings all being common elements of fiction and real life.
“You wouldn’t know the things our students deal with, and the show highlights it and our students really relate to it,” Mason said.
Theatre helps this diverse bunch of actors get through life and motivates them to do better in school. It’s also obvious from watching them rehearse on stage that the students draw inspiration from each other.
“We’re not just geeks and we’re not just jocks, we’re a family, not just one particular stereotype, we’re many things,” Kylea said.
With the grant money, Mason says she’s bringing in a voice coach for the first time, they’ll be able to afford supplies to build sets, as well as upgrading technical equipment. It’s all to help the core mission of using the stage to bring out the best in the kids.
“Theatre allows me to express myself in ways I never thought were possible,” Jeremy said.