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Southwestern, Round Rock High Schools Partner On Unique Theatre Project

Can a play change people’s attitudes about difficult subjects such as race and alternative lifestyles?

A California theater company thinks so, and they are bringing their unique form of theater to Southwestern University and the Round Rock Independent School District.

The theater company, which is called Fringe Benefits, is using a grant it has received to bring a Theatre for Social Justice Institute titled “Race and High School Students” to Williamson County.

The project will begin with a series of five workshops that will be held evenings during the week of Sept. 12-19 at McNeil High School in Round Rock. At these workshops, representatives from Fringe Benefits will listen to students from Round Rock high schools describe real discrimination problems at their school. They then will work with the students to create a play based on the incidents described.

The play will be performed in several Williamson County locations next April, with students from Southwestern University and Round Rock high schools serving as the actors.

This is the first time that a college and a high school have collaborated on such a project with Fringe Benefits. The collaboration came about through the efforts of Kathleen Juhl, associate professor of theatre at Southwestern, who is a long-time friend of Fringe Benefits Artistic Director Norma Bowles. Aaron Johnson, a 2004 Southwestern graduate who now teaches drama at McNeil High School in Round Rock, is serving as the liaison with the Round Rock schools.

“I think there is a need for this in any school,” Johnson said. “What we are trying to do is raise awareness and create a loving community.”

Johnson said he expects the play to address issues such as use of the “n” word and peer-enforced segregation.

He said the project will provide an excellent opportunity for his students to work with college students. He also hopes it will get more African-American students involved with his theatre department.

About 35 people are expected to participate in the project, including students, parents and administrators from RRISD, along with students and several faculty members from Southwestern.

Among the Southwestern students who will be participating in the project is Diana Parra, a first-year student from Plano, Texas.

“I’m Hispanic, so I know about racial issues in high schools,” Parra said. “This is an important issue that needs to be addressed.”

For more information on Fringe Benefits, visit their Web site.