On a December night in 2009, a group of South Philadelphia High School students attended “Coming Home” at the Wilma Theater. While the play — written by South African Athol Fugard — dealt with the politics of a distant continent, it was a story the students knew all too well: one of racism, economic injustice and redemption.
That night came after the most troubling moment in SPHS history: On Dec. 3, about 30 Asian students were injured in systematic attacks by a group of African-American students.
“The staff of the Wilma was thoroughly impressed with the students that night. The kids were engrossed in the material and were asking questions during the talk-back,” says Monica Stephenson, the education director of 1812 Productions, the company that sponsored the evening. “They were wondering why there weren’t more stories about these students in the media. They scheduled a meeting with me and wanted to know how we could create a performance with these kids.”
Eventually, the Wilma and 1812 teamed up with Philadelphia Young Playwrights to foster the project. The result hits the Wilma stage this week: “We Write South Philly High” features 13 SPHS seniors performing a text created by more than 40 student contributors.
The play presents a series of free-form vignettes about the recent violence and the school’s history, as well as the students’ fears and hopes for the future.
“These students have unfolded themselves from the inside out to share some incredible stories,” says Stephenson, who is also directing the play. “More than anything, I’m really proud of their generosity.”
In their words
From “We Write South Philly High,” a play written by students from South Philadelphia High School:
We write a school that accepts everyone.
No matter where they come from.
We write a school that keeps you active.
That actually teaches you things you might want to know.
We write a school filled with respect, joy and laughter.
We write South Philly High.