This week we had the pleasure of seeing the play JJ's Place, a collaboration between University of Michigan, Eastern Michigan, and Spinning Dot Theatre, written by Jose Casas and directed by Jenna Koppera. The play takes place in East L.A. and tells the story of the cultivation of a relationship between young JJ and his father after the passing of his mother. JJ, struggling socially and academically in school, is suspended and left to spend his days with his dad in the family shop doing handywork. JJ begins to create inventions from the scraps of cardboard left over at the shop.
It is through JJ's imagination, creating games and machines from scratch, that he is able to strengthen his connection to himself, his family, and his community.
The students were excited to visit the Duderstadt Center Video Studio to see the live performance, and many voiced how they felt like they understood and related to JJ. Some liked how the play used the screen behind the stage to display the vast worlds and visions of JJ's imagination. Others felt connected to JJ's urge to use his hands to build and create the stories of his mind. Many students also felt sad for JJ, and understood the importance of feeling like you belong, at school and in the wider community.
This was a wonderful opportunity for students to hear a story of someone very far from where we are, East L.A., and make connections to themselves. These stories create an opportunity to empathize with a variety of voices, allowing us to feel simultaneously how big and small the world is. Jenny Koppera also turns this dynamic onto us, stating that young people "can feel so small on the outside--in the real world--and so incredibly big on the inside--in the glorious safety of our imagination".