"Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages...the future of America!"
The voice of teaching artist Andrew Ronan booms unexpectedly from the cavity of his wiry frame.
Ronan, 32, is working with 17 high school juniors from the Renaissance Charter School in Jackson Heights to create a 40-minute performance addressing incoming freshman fears of hazing, sexual pressures, drugs, and gangs. The ran January 10 and 11 at Queens Theatre in the Park.
"[Teenagers] have a voice worth hearing," said Ronan, a native of Jackson Heights, who encourages teenagers to validate their thoughts and feelings through artistic expression. "We actually care about who they are and what they think.”
Students Katia Roma and Daniel Laverde summon Ronan over as they discuss a character named Ivie "Ghetto" Rivera. As he scrunches down to listen, they brainstorm about her insecure body image, why people can't pronounce her name correctly and the details of her personal history.
"We wouldn't be as far as we are right now personally and as a group [without Ronan]," said Laverde, 17, who has been working with Ronan for two years. "It's a challenge, it's more than reading. What you write comes from your heart [but] you're not afraid to express yourself."
This story was published in the Queens Tribune.