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School of Creative and Performing Arts students adapt I, Claudius for the present day

Art imitates life

Detail from original I, Claudius poster.
Detail from original I, Claudius poster.

Trod Boards, director of the San Diego School of Creative and Performing Arts theater program, is excited. What’s more, he’s excited to tell you why. "Robert Graves’ masterful historical novel I, Claudius, which was famously adapted into an excellent television series by the BBC starring Derek Jacobi, purports to be the story of Claudius, the hunched and stammering Roman emperor who followed the mad, bad Caligula. But the real star of the show is Livia, the scheming wife of Caesar Augustus who longs to see her son Tiberius ascend to power. Livia is one of the great literary villains: a master manipulator, a cunning political operative, a patient plotter, and a ruthless killer. One by one, all those who stand between her son and Caesar’s crown come to grief, often without ever suspecting the real mastermind behind their demise.

"When I suggested to this year’s seniors that their class project should be the adaptation of a famous historical work for modern times, I was sure they’d take on something from Shakespeare, the way Tim Blake Nelson did with O, setting Othello in a modern American high school. Or maybe The Great Gatsby. Something with romance, anyway. Much to my surprise and delight, they turned out to have been listening when I said that the best art comes from paying attention to what’s going on right in front of us. Four months later, they came to me with the script for I, Marne.

The kids did manage a pretty catchy tagline.

"Marne Foster, of course, is the driven mother and sometime San Diego Unified School Board president who carved her way through the staff of the School of Creative and Performing Arts in her efforts to see her son succeed. First, she saw to the removal of James Jacoby, a vice principal who suspended her son for violating the school’s dress code and wearing a do-rag to school. She almost got him demoted to teacher status, but he managed to escape with his title. Then she saw to the ousting of SCPA Principal Mitzi Lizzaraga, who had come to the vice-principal’s defense. Finally, she oversaw the suspension without pay of Kim Abagat, an SCPA school counselor who wrote an unflattering letter of recommendation for the boy, claiming that the counselor had unjustly kept him from acceptance at prominent universities. Allegedly. She allegedly did all those things. And guess what? These kids were allegedly paying attention. It’s an impressive effort, one that touches on questions of family, race, justice, and ambition. It’s almost enough to make a person believe in the power of the arts.”

I, Marne will see its world premiere this May at the school's Florence Johnson Grand Theater.

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Detail from original I, Claudius poster.
Detail from original I, Claudius poster.

Trod Boards, director of the San Diego School of Creative and Performing Arts theater program, is excited. What’s more, he’s excited to tell you why. "Robert Graves’ masterful historical novel I, Claudius, which was famously adapted into an excellent television series by the BBC starring Derek Jacobi, purports to be the story of Claudius, the hunched and stammering Roman emperor who followed the mad, bad Caligula. But the real star of the show is Livia, the scheming wife of Caesar Augustus who longs to see her son Tiberius ascend to power. Livia is one of the great literary villains: a master manipulator, a cunning political operative, a patient plotter, and a ruthless killer. One by one, all those who stand between her son and Caesar’s crown come to grief, often without ever suspecting the real mastermind behind their demise.

"When I suggested to this year’s seniors that their class project should be the adaptation of a famous historical work for modern times, I was sure they’d take on something from Shakespeare, the way Tim Blake Nelson did with O, setting Othello in a modern American high school. Or maybe The Great Gatsby. Something with romance, anyway. Much to my surprise and delight, they turned out to have been listening when I said that the best art comes from paying attention to what’s going on right in front of us. Four months later, they came to me with the script for I, Marne.

The kids did manage a pretty catchy tagline.

"Marne Foster, of course, is the driven mother and sometime San Diego Unified School Board president who carved her way through the staff of the School of Creative and Performing Arts in her efforts to see her son succeed. First, she saw to the removal of James Jacoby, a vice principal who suspended her son for violating the school’s dress code and wearing a do-rag to school. She almost got him demoted to teacher status, but he managed to escape with his title. Then she saw to the ousting of SCPA Principal Mitzi Lizzaraga, who had come to the vice-principal’s defense. Finally, she oversaw the suspension without pay of Kim Abagat, an SCPA school counselor who wrote an unflattering letter of recommendation for the boy, claiming that the counselor had unjustly kept him from acceptance at prominent universities. Allegedly. She allegedly did all those things. And guess what? These kids were allegedly paying attention. It’s an impressive effort, one that touches on questions of family, race, justice, and ambition. It’s almost enough to make a person believe in the power of the arts.”

I, Marne will see its world premiere this May at the school's Florence Johnson Grand Theater.

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Don't forget master manipulator School Trustee Richard Barrera's many roles: head of the AFL-CIO Labor Council to which the San Diego Education Association of teachers belongs; promoter of green former elementary school principal Cindy Marten to become Superintendent and recruiter of ethically challenged Tiger Mother Marne Foster to run for the School Board.

Jan. 15, 2016

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