Learning Curve Review - A Gripping Exploration of High School Life

 

Maria F. Velazquez in Learning Curve, created by Albany Park Theater Project and Third Rail Projects

 

Your guidance counselor needs to speak with you. Standardized testing will take place today. A girl needs your help to ask her girlfriend to prom.  These are just a few of many scenes included in Learning Curve, an immersive theatre experience set at the fictional Ellen Gates Starr High School. Developed by over thirty youth artists in collaboration with adult artists from Albany Park Theatre Project and Third Rail Projects in partnership with Goodman Theatre, this unique large-scale immersive theatre production brings its audience into the world of a contemporary CPS high school. Tackling issues as lighthearted as quality of vending machine food and as serious as immigration, this one-of-a-kind theatrical performance is a gripping experience not to be missed.

 

Alyanna Parajado in Learning Curve, created by Albany Park Theater Project and Third Rail Projects

 

Audience members enter the building through a metal detector and are sent in small groups to the main office to receive photo IDs. High school-aged students serve as security and give curt instructions to adult audience members, a surprisingly unsettling reversal of traditional power dynamics. Unsettling, too, is the degree to which the instinct to behave like rule-abiding high schoolers kicked in for the audience; all of us stood at the periphery of the room where we waited for the production to start, nervous to get too close to the principal’s desk, and I found myself anticipating getting in trouble for holding my boyfriend’s hand.

 

Hector Velazquez (L) and Kiara Lyn Manriquez (R) in Learning Curve, created by Albany Park Theater Project and Third Rail Projects

 

When the performance begins, audience members are divided into classrooms, and most people are separated from the people they came in with, opening them up to a new degree of vulnerability. The performances range in style from modern dance incorporating desks, filing cabinets, and other typical classroom furniture to hyper-realistic scripted scenes, with improvisation, silent action, and everything in between rounding out the spectrum of performance types. Students and security guards take audience members from room to room and scene to scene. Some experiences take place in larger groups, while others place audience members in pairs or one-on-one with individual actors.

 

Carlos Desantiago in Learning Curve, created by Albany Park Theater Project and Third Rail Projects. (Photo: Liz Lauren)

 

The rotations between scenes are executed seamlessly, and the selection of material presents a multifaceted view of high school life. Most powerful of all are the ways that the performance’s central theme manifests itself: the system is broken. Students fall through the cracks, teachers are burned out and unfairly let go, and standardized testing holds a death grip on the success of both schools and individuals. The immersive nature of the storytelling makes it impossible not to care, impossible not to become emotionally invested in the difficult circumstances of the high school’s students and staff.

 

(Left to right) Brisa Saucedo, Ashlie Hawkins and Samantha Romero in Learning Curve, created by Albany Park Theater Project and Third Rail Projects

 

There is a range of talent among the student performers; a few seemed a bit stiff and nervous, but for the most part, the students achieved a degree of creativity and naturalism in their performances that is exceptional among adult actors, much less teenagers. These students have developed an extraordinary piece of theatre, and it is no wonder that the run has been extended as performances continue to sell out.

 

Maidenwena Alba (C) and ensemble members of Learning Curve, created by Albany Park Theater Project and Third Rail Projects

 

Learning Curve cracks open the world of a city high school and guides its audience through every nook and cranny of what’s inside. Whip smart and deeply moving, this production is nothing short of spectacular.

 

Christina Saliba in Learning Curve, created by Albany Park Theater Project and Third Rail Projects. All photos by Liz Lauren

 

Ticket Information

Tickets for the newest block of tickets, extending tickets from Oct. 19 - Nov. 10, go on sale August 3 at 10 a.m. and can be purchased at the APTP website. Tickets are $40 for the general public, and $18 for Chicago Public School students, faculty and staff. The performance is not suitable for audience members who are not comfortable standing, walking, or climbing stairs; comfortable footwear is strongly encouraged. The school is not wheelchair accessible. No one under the age of 14 is admitted. For more information about other APTP projects and programs, visit the APTP website or call 773.866.0875.

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