Individuals who find themselves in a disadvantaged position in society are not often spoken about, but thanks to University of Idaho graduating seniors Eve Weston and Lauren “Lolo” Ramos, that”s beginning to change.
“I think we stereotype all people, especially people we don”t have a lot of contact with, such as people with disabilities,” Weston said.
Together, the two women are helping individuals who are financially, mentally or physically disadvantaged in theater, giving them a voice they might have never had otherwise.
Weston and Ramos are running a series of five-week-long acting workshops through a group called ASTEP, or Artists Striving To End Poverty.
The duo has been involved with the group since last year. Weston said their involvement in the organization happened to also satisfy a senior capstone class requirement necessary for completing their theatre degrees.
Dean Panttaja, their adviser and mentor throughout their last semester, said the capstone course assists Weston and Ramos with preparing for the world outside of college, but it also focuses on demanding some things of its students.
“It”s their chance to give back to the community in which way they see fit,” Panttaja said. “It”s about giving back to the community that”s giving their time as being our audience.”
Weston and Ramos said their participation in the program has benefited them in unique ways, some of which they didn”t expect.
“Just to be able to witness those small moments, it brings a lot of joy. It makes you appreciate everything in a greater light,” Ramos said.
One of those smaller moments was witnessing a blossoming relationship between two boys, one autistic, the other stricken with cerebral palsy. Ramos said the two quickly became best friends, inviting each other to their birthday parties and spending time together outside of the class.
“It was a really sweet friendship that came out of that in such a short process, which I think is really, really special,” Ramos said.
Though these moments make the hard work both women put into the workshops worth-while, they found the organization of the workshops challenging and difficult.
“We had a lot of plans for what we were going to do,” Ramos said. “We were like “oh this is going to be so great,” but when we actually tried to implement them in the workshops the kids were having none of it.”
The students” unforeseen response meant Weston and Ramos quickly had to change their focus.
Ramos said this meant being more creative and developing a new way to instruct students. Instead of giving their students set lines and telling them where to move and when, Ramos and Weston discovered it was better to open up the students” work and allow for more creative choices.
“I found what worked well for them was the freedom and expression of self. Giving them some boundaries, but allowing them to manipulate those boundaries,” Ramos said. “We gave them a variation of a play, but it wasn”t as constricting or as rule-based. It wasn”t “you have to move here at this spot. You have to say this line at this spot.” It was more like “we are going to build this world together.””
This sense of togetherness, of community, is the focal point of the theater capstone class.
Panttaja said he has seen many students leave college thinking they know exactly what they want to do, only to change their minds once exposed to different fields and job opportunities.
“What I hope this class does is teach them that no matter where you go, no matter what you do it”s always about community,” Pantajja said.
Sam Balas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org