'Safa's Story:' New Interactive Play Inspired By San Diego Teen From Zimbabwe
Audiences have plenty to say about a play when they are leaving the theater or on the ride back home but it's not often you get a chance to talk about the play and even change it with the actors on the stage. Does what a new experience is offering in Chula Vista. The play at OnStage Playhouse in Chula Vista and it's based on the real-life experiences of San Diego high school junior. Joining me is Catherine Hanna Schrock, director and playwright . Welcome to the program. >> Thank you for having me. >> Sasha Hofisi is the San Diego high school junior in question. Welcome to the program. >> Hello. >> Catherine, I understand Sasha Hofisi is your acting student. What was it about her experience that led you to write this play? >> She's always been open about her story and her stories of racism and ethnic prejudice and her drive has been the drive. So deepening understanding is what I experienced to be why she likes to tell her story and she is very bold in telling her story. So I thought she would be willing to be a part of creating this performance experience with me. >> Sasha, what is your personal story? >> I grew up in a primarily white neighborhood so having gone to school there, I was teased and bullied because I was different and because I come from a immigrant family. So it gives you a glimpse into what that was like being called racial slurs, students telling me that I was worthless because of my race and making fun of my last name because it's different. So starting from a young age and dealing with that and what that was like for me, it's been an interesting experience to see how people have been able to change a story and make it more adaptable. >> That is a key factor of Safa's Story. The play is interactive. Can you explain the technique and why you decided to use it? >> It is a play in two parts. The first is that you tell a real story of who is a an American from some Bob way. -- You show it as a story with music and storytelling and dialogue and we are interacting with the audience as a part of our storytelling. After we show the performance moving toward the worst-case outcome we then invite the audience to reimagine an ending that they would be more satisfied with and we think would benefit. We replay the scenes beginning when we first see her uncomfortable and unhappy and then we asked the audience to stop the play and to yell stop in a moment where they think her or her two friends could've said or done anything differently to support her in getting a better outcome for life in that moment. They stop the play and we have created a warm and safe space community where people feel comfortable to take some risks with us and we asked them if they would like to come on stage and replace the actor and try out a new thing to do or say well faced with the bully character that might help her have a more empowered outcome. >> Safa's Story is based on your experience. What was it like working with Catherine and opening about -- up about this issue? >> It was really comfortable for me because having to work with her at school was really helpful for me in opening up. It was a very creative experience. We got to talk about stories and prejudices that I've dealt with at school. After me telling stories, we were able to come to the conclusion on one that we can build a theater piece off of and that's how it came to be. >> In your real life, you are not able to call out stop. How did you overcome the experiences you had in real life? >> Overcoming it was a really hard thing for me now moving forward. I stand up for myself a lot more and I call things out the way they are and I don't -- I think because of being so young and not having a great support system of friends and administration who were around me, I learned through these experiences to stand up for myself so I tried to use that in a creative outlet through music and through theater to share my story with others. >> Catherine, the on stage production in Chula Vista is a very small and intimate space. How does that work with this story? >> We were really intentional in choosing that space because the stages low and the audience is close and we make a point of making eye contact with them even in the storytelling to connect with them. It puts them in front of us so when we stop we are able to give them a couple of steps into the space and we are just the lighting and we asked them to work with us and try to figure out how to rework the ending that we've all been unhappy with. >> You will bring one performance of this play to the old Globe. Are you changing it for the larger venue? >> Yes, we are also taking it on tour to schools and I think they will be similar performances. We are taking it to schools and we will be in five different schools and we will be working with fourth and fifth graders around the age of our protagonists. In this theater we are not trying to provide answers for the audience. We are trying to support a process of discovery where they can find tools in a moment of bullying of things that they can do either as bystanders or as a victim. What can they do and say that might help them in the moment? Some of that process has to do with looking at the bully character himself. We are not trying to demonize them or put any human being down. We do want to understand him so we of conversation with the audience to find out who he is and how can knowing that help us as the two friends, the bystanders are the victim in terms of knowing what to do and say that might shift the moment and help empower our character. >> I've been speaking with Catherine Hanna Schrock, director and playwright of Safa's Story and also Sasha Hofisi . It runs Friday through Sunday at OnStage Playhouse in Chula Vista and March 3 at the old Globe. Thank you for coming in and speaking with us. >> Thank you so much.
What if you had the chance to transform the ending of a play?
The play was inspired by the real-life experience of San Diegan Sasha Hofisi, a high school junior and Zimbabwean immigrant, who faced race-based bullying in school.
“I grew up in a primarily white neighborhood. I was teased and bullied a lot because I was different and because I come from an immigrant family. 'Safa’s Story' basically gives you a glimpse into what that was like, being called racial slurs, students telling me that I was worthless because of my race and being made fun of because of my last name,” Hofisi said.
Where: OnStage Playhouse Chula Vista
When: March 3, 12:00-1:30 p.m.
Where: Old Globe
Catherine Hanna Schrock, who directed and wrote the play, said she wanted to use the forum theatre technique to engage the audience and foster dialogue about overcoming bias and bigotry.
“After we show the performance with the worst case outcome for Safa ... we replay scenes and then ask the audience to stop the play, literally to yell stop, in a moment where they think Safa or her two friends could have said or done anything differently to support Safa in getting a different outcome for her life,” Schrock said. "In this kind of theatre, we're not trying to provide answers for the audience, we're trying to support a process of discovery where they can find tools in a moment of bullying, of things they can do as bystanders or a of victim. What can they do and say that might actually help the moment?"
“Safa’s Story” is geared towards families and kids ages 6 and up. The play, which will be shown at several local elementary and middle schools, is a production of Bocón and Blindspot Collective, two theatre companies dedicated to serving diverse communities.
Blindspot Collective was awarded a grant from the University of California’s Critical Refugee Studies Collective to develop work about refugees and immigrants in San Diego.
Schrock and Hafisi talk about making "Safa's Story," Wednesday on Midday Edition.