In the Spark episode “First Person Narrative,” visit the Conservatory Theater Ensemble (CTE), an award-winning theater education program that offers a four-year training program in all aspects of theatrical production. Based at Tamalpais High School, whose drama program boasts the participation of almost a third of the students, the CTE is a student-run theater company that draws particularly committed drama students and instills within them a professional approach to theatrical production. The CTE program has opened the door for many to pursue a variety of careers in this field.
Under the direction of guest artist John Warren, students develop, write, produce and perform an original play. The current production, being put on by 13 students, is “Vaulting the Median: Stories of Protest on Camino Alto.” The production examines social protest in Mill Valley through the stories of the town’s residents. As a documentary theater project, the play’s dialogue is scripted entirely from interviews conducted by the students themselves. On stage, the actors speak the words of the people they interviewed, seeking to understand and and accurately represent their views. The Spark story follows the students through the entire development of this production, leading up to opening night. Through this process, the production team gains knowledge of Mill Valley’s rich history and a better understanding of the complex social issues that surround the act of protesting.
“Vaulting the Median” echoes another CTE documentary theater piece, “Patterns of Interference: The John Walker Lindh Project.” Similarly, the play was based upon the words of the local residents of Marin County and scripted from more than 50 interviews conducted by students to elicit an understanding of the residents’ responses to the issue. Also directed by Warren, the intention was to articulate the multiple opinions in a dynamic and accurate way and in so doing, to promote a deeper understanding of the controversy. Warren is committed to this principle of dialogue and debate, offering ordinary people the chance to be heard.
The CTE is one of the most comprehensive public-school theater programs in the country. Students are trained in all aspects of the theater, from fund-raising and business management to production and stage management — together with all the technical skills involved. In its use of ensemble performances, the CTE also teaches students a collaborative approach to theater and the benefits of effective teamwork. Everyone, from actors to playwrights to backstage crew, contributes to the power of the performance.