The Pittsburg High School theatre department’s “Outside Looking In” offers no great big musical performance, no flashy costumes and no glitzy entertainment. What it does offer is simple commentary.
“We hope it has an impact and a point to it to just bring awareness to the topic,” said Greg Shaw, PHS’ theatre teacher.
The topic of “Outside Looking In” is socioeconomic diversity between students, and learning to be sensitive and aware of perceived notions about each social class and learning acceptance for every one.
The social issue play is a culmination of the semester’s repertory theatre class that Shaw teaches where the process begins with a topic chosen by the previous class. When the class starts and the topic is chosen, the students then begin doing research on the matter and present it to the writer.
“We will have contacted our playwright, which is Debbie Lamedman — and she has worked with us now I think this is the seventh year I believe — and we commission an original piece based off the topic and she has some input too,” Shaw said. “... She starts writing a framework for a show and then she gives us a first draft right around the first four-five weeks of the semester. We workshop it, look at it, additions, subtractions, scenes that we feel like are missing, information that we feel like isn’t represented for our situation.”
The play follows more than a dozen students in high school who fall under all kinds of social classes — such as the lower, middle and upper class — as they try to break barriers to still be friends with others who don’t fall under their class or to simply show kindness for others.
If this is beginning to sound like a play lambasting the rich and making the poverty-stricken students be the good guys, rest assured that is not the case. There are instances throughout the play where insensitivity and meanness transcends any class, and both sides play ugly at times sticking to their perceived notions of who they can talk to, be friends to, or even acknowledge.
“What it comes down to — from a student’s standpoint — if they can get past what they have or don’t have, none of them have really achieved anything, they were just born into a family that was either struggling, or was really comfortable or has a nice financial situation,” Shaw said. “This topic really comes into the judgement that comes, the stereotypes and how that’s a learned quality or aspect of how we do things.”
Shaw said that at the beginning of the semester’s class, the students didn’t really have a grasp on how socioeconomic diversity and poverty affected them, like the number of students who are considered homeless or are eligible for the free or reduced lunch program.
“I learned that it’s bigger than what I thought it was,” said senior Ashley Burch.
“We did a lot of research on it and that process was fun,” said junior Will Jewett. “It’s more abundant than it seems.”
“Especially in Pittsburg,” senior Sarah Colyer added. “I think the percentage was like 36 percent of Pittsburg lives in poverty and it’s like over 40 percent of our children live in poverty. It was kind of shocking to hear that.”
Jewett also said they were amazed at how many students were eligible for the free or reduced lunch program and don’t take advantage of it because of the social stigma.
“Our goal has always been with all our social issue plays is just to start the conversation,” Shaw said.
After the play is over, a talk-back session is encouraged for members of the audience to ask questions, which the students will attempt to answer.
The play will be conducted for Pittsburg High School and other area schools Thursday and Friday at Memorial Auditorium.