Students in the City at Peace project worked with masks to discover the roles at the heart of their stories.
Courtesy Photo

City at Peace takes teens from every sector of the community and brings them together to create theater and music. First conceived in 1994 in Washington, D.C., as a way to channel youthful energy into constructive activities, City at Peace has since expanded, forming dozens of regional branches around the country and the world. Santa Barbara has been very fortunate in having Nancy Davis to steer our chapter, and a host of talented theater professionals, musicians, and teachers to make it a reality. This year’s City at Peace production, Masks, involves the adolescent search for identity, and the stories and songs that make up the show are all original works based on the real-life adventures of the cast. Last week I spoke with director Joseph Velasco about the process and intentions of this unusual group.

I know that Masks is not an individual effort. Could you tell me about the other adults involved? Sure, it’s an amazing team that includes Sojourner Kincaid Rolle, Nancy Davis, John Douglas, Matt Tavianini, Laura Denny, Chris Turner, and Shannon Abero.

How did you find your role and develop a method for working with this group? Well, I was a founding member of BOXTALES, and I’m now a storyteller working closely with Michael Katz, and I’m also a high school English teacher … I arrived with the idea that I would put on a show with these students in the same way that I would work with any group of actors. But that approach did not work with these kids, because that’s not what City at Peace is about. Our actors don’t audition, and that’s something I’m very proud of, because what we’re looking for is not talent, but commitment.

So you want truth-tellers and risk-takers first, then you worry about turning them into performers? I have a rule that adults involved with the program are not allowed to write dialogue. It’s a challenge for the students, but the result is that it changes them in the sense that they develop self-esteem and a sense of ownership. What I found with this work was that I needed to stop directing them and let them tell their stories.


Masks is Thursday through Saturday, May 20-22 at Center Stage Theatre in Paseo Nuevo. Showtime is at 7:30pm, and tickets are $15 general, $10 students. Thursday night is free for students with a valid student ID.


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