COMPTON, Calif. — Things are still far from normal at Clarence A. Dickison school in Compton, but some students are now learning to write about their experiences over the past year in a creative writing program called Fountain Voyces. The program is powered by the Fountain Theatre.

Playwright France-Luce Benson heads up the current class, which has started off with the students writing monologues. 

What You Need To Know

  • The Fountain Theatre is a nonprofit established in 1990 by Deborah Culver and Stephen Sachs designed to nurture multi-ethnic theater and dance artists

  • The Fountain Voyces program pilot started at Hollywood High in 2020 and is designed to build community and empathy through creative writing in underserved schools

  • Playwright France-Luce Benson heads up the program using acting and writing exercises that focus on students' own experiences in their communities

  • The class culminates in readings and performances of the student work by professional actors

“In the first part of the program, there's a lot of exploration of community and what that means,” explained Benson from the school courtyard, where she got to meet some of the students for the first time in person. “(The class) allows the students to reflect on what communities they identify with and why those communities are important to them.”

The Fountain Voyces pilot program launched last year at Hollywood High School and now has expanded to this Compton school with a mission of cultivating compassion through storytelling.

“What I'm also doing here is encouraging them to use their own experiences,” said Benson. “They've had difficult, challenging and sometimes traumatic experiences, and at that age, they don't always know how to articulate it.”

By engaging with others through acting games and writing exercises the hope is to cultivate both creativity and empathy. Twelve-year-old Mariana Carmona is currently writing a monologue about her experiences this past year.

“It was a hard year because many people didn't get to see their family members or close ones,” she said. “And many people died due to COVID and police brutality.”

It is a lot to process at any age, but Maria says the class has helped her to cope while developing new writing skills.

“It helps because you could get everything out on paper and you don't have to be afraid of nobody being like, ‘Wow, you're really saying that,’ because it's writing,” she said.

Jah'Asharee Moore is a more sports-oriented student but she said the Fountain Voyces class is also helping her to develop new skills and encouraged her to engage more with fellow students. 

“I learned how to participate more because the theory class is really about participating and doing stuff the other kids have been doing,” said Jah'Asharee, who added that learning to write is about more than just this one class.

“I’m going to need it in the future,” she said. “So, it's actually really helpful.”

At the end of the eight-week course, professional actors will be brought in to read and perform the student works. France-Luce Benson said she looks forward to the day when the class can be done in person.

“I'll be excited when we can actually do this live,” she said. “Because it is hard, but I do get the sense that they're really craving this connection.”