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CSUSM’s New Play Festival Highlights Foster Youth

December 2, 2011

In partnership with ACE Scholars Services, Playwrights Project’s Telling Stories program paired theatre artists with former foster youth who attended Cal State San Marcos (CSUSM).  The artists created four short plays based on the lives of  the “storytellers.”  Students at CSUSM are performing the plays as part of CSUSM  Theatre Department’s annual New Play Festival, produced by Judy Bauerlein.  Playwrights Project theatre artist Kaja Dunn is directing two of the four plays.  We interviewed Kaja about her desire to take part in the foster youth program.

What drew you to the project?

The Telling Stories: Giving Voice to Former Foster Youth program, being featured in CSUSM’s New Play Festival, is a representation of everything I love about working at Playwrights Project.  This show not only brings new works to the stage, but in doing so it nurtures new young actors, creates collaborations with seasoned professionals and emerging artists, and furthers awareness in the community about the stories and strength of foster youth.

As the director, and as someone interested in working in the academic field, the opportunity to work with Dr. Judy Bauerlin was priceless.  It was the best kind of collaboration in that we were able to feed off each other’s ideas, and I was able to benefit from her insight and experience.

Ever since my Playwrights Project residency at San Pasqual Academy, I have jumped at any chance to work with foster youth. I have personal experience with the foster care system, and my husband and I hope to be foster parents someday. 

What intrigues you about the scripts?

Most intriguing was the clear message of the value each individual life holds. I was also intrigued by the scripts that focused on how important it is, as an adult, to do a better job fostering each child’s potential.

You can hear statistics about the foster care system until you are blue in the face, but there is nothing like seeing their stories on stage to help you understand the challenges these kids face. Rita Naranjo, one of the storytellers, uses the term “parentless kids.” The scripts offer such a varied view of what it means to be “parentless kids.” They show what it is like to grow up without consistency, without someone advocating for you. But there is also a redemptive outlook that each of these scripts has. They highlight the power people can have when they are willing to take the time to be a role model. There is a great emphasis on the value of the compassion from the mentors who stick with the kids, and the humanity of the main characters, who represent these real life storytellers. All the stories highlight the fact that these are four incredible individuals who have an amazing amount of inner strength and resolve.

What is it like working with college students and storytellers?

Working with the student actors in this show has been amazing. One student in particular came into audition for another role, but ended up as the lead character.  Her experiences as an ACE Scholar and former foster youth brought so much truth to the character in the play. I watched my actors grow in their empathy for each other. One of the greatest experiences was having the storytellers come in and talk to the actors at rehearsal. As a director it is a rare experience to work with the subject of the piece you are directing. Participating in the discussions between the storytellers and the actors was remarkable. I watched the actors begin to realize the impact of the work they are doing. I have such affection for all the cast, faculty, and staff I have worked with at CSUSM and Playwrights Project, and I hope we were able to honor our amazing storytellers with this production.

Scene from ‘A Bad Kid’ by Katie Haroff. Photo by Jason Eberwein

How can readers help?

We will be putting out a bin from Promises2Kids each night for toy donations for current foster youth. Guests can bring a toy (or gift card for older teens) to the show and it will go to a local foster youth.

Plays will be performed by student in CSUSM’s Theatre Department: Arts 101 Building, 333 South Twin Oaks Road, San Marcos, CA 92069.

Performance Dates:

December 1st, 7PM, Suggested donation $2

December 3rd, 7PM, Suggested donation $2

December 4th, 2PM, Suggested donation $2

December 6th, 7PM, Sponsored by Arts and Lectures, FREE

December 7th, 7:30PM, Suggested donation $2


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