Students present their stories in Las Memorias show

By CATHERINE KRUSE | Evergreen theatre reporter

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There are many different sides to people. For Leilani Pruneda, Warden High School senior, her message to the world is “We are all equal.”

“Never be afraid to show your potential,” she said.

Her message and the story behind it showcased at the Las Memorias performances here at WSU this week. Accompanying her are 26 other students who shared messages and real-life inspired stories they experienced through a play performed in Daggy Hall.

Las Memorias had its final showing at WSU on Thursday night at Jones Theatre in Daggy Hall. It will go on to perform at McFarland Middle School in Othello on Sept. 4, and Wenatchee High School and Yakima Valley Community College on Sept. 5.

The shows are by no means traditional. There’s no straight storyline, only the stories told by the students who experienced them and give their message, whether it’s about family, racism or traditions.

“(There are) a lot of unknowns, but it’s refreshing,” said AnaMaria Correa, the director and playwright. “There are themes in the play, (such as) the idea that young people are seen one way but have a lot of depth and wisdom.”

Started in 2008, Las Memorias is an organization that takes the stories of high school students and turns them into a play. These central Washington students submit essays answering multiple questions about themselves and then continue on to play themselves in the show. Three of the performances take place at WSU, while the students also perform at other locations in the state.

The actors and directors only get one week to rehearse and learn the script for the shows, all while staying on campus. The students live in residence halls on campus and learn how to be independent.

“The process gives them a sense of the college community,” said Angel Gonzales, assistant director and Memorias alumnus. “It does encourage them to come to college.”

Since its start, 90 percent of Las Memorias alumni have gone to college. One of them, Elizabeth Pruneda, will graduate from WSU this year, and Gonzales will start in the fall at WSU as a junior.

“Las Memorias is aesthetic not in the traditional way,” Correa said. “The work is inspired by the work of the teenagers themselves and their words.”

The students’ essays create the script for every Las Memorias show. Questions for the essays range from favorite foods to “If your life was a movie, what would the soundtrack be like.”

Every year the show changes, but one thing that doesn’t change is the impact it has on the participants.

“I heard about this from my friends,” Leilani Pruneda said. “Every participant has said it’s an awesome program to join and it helps you (prepare) for college.”

Leilani Pruneda, like many of the other students, said her participation in the program left its mark on her. She said she now feels more confident to talk to people and be who she is.

Correa described the students’ transformation by comparing their body and language from day one to where they are now. While most of them come in hunched over and not making eye contact, by the end everyone is like a family, she said.

“These students with different needs, language, differences, come together and find more commonalities than differences,” Correa said.

Las Memorias helps students learn different skills such as leadership, team building, responsibility, and creative thinking. The actors learn to harness those skills and develop them, Correa said.