The Paramount Theater and Paramount School of the Arts in Aurora offered area educators and administrators Friday night the opportunity to hear a reading of an original play focused on the use of artificial intelligence in the classroom.
More than 60 people were invited to a reception and a reading of the new play, which is still being worked on. After collecting the responses from the educators to the Friday reading, the plan is to finalize the script for the play, which the theater officials plan to make available free of charge in schools in the area next year.
The event began at 5 p.m. at the Copley Theater at 8 E. Galena Blvd. in Aurora, followed by a reading of the play’s script by actors, beginning at 6 p.m. This was followed by a feedback and question-and-answer session from the audience.
The play, titled “Brighter Futures,” is the first new work to be created at the Paramount School of the Arts, officials said.
Paramount Theater chief development officer Jonathan Jensen said the play began in 2019 with a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.
“Throughout the process we requested scripts from different artists and by doing so we had chosen one show but later decided it was time to move on and this is the second script we’ve come to in three years, and we’re really excited about it,” Jensen said. “The writing team did a really great job, and it’s incredibly relevant to the world we live in right now.”
Brighter Futures – a musical – was written by Satya Chavez and J (music and lyrics) and Gabriel Ruiz (book).
A press release from the theater said the cast “includes several actors who have appeared in Paramount’s Broadway and BOLD series productions, including Bryce Ancil, Carisa Gonzalez, Jake Lopez, Laura Quinones and Tiffany Taylor.”
The entire show, including songs sung to a soundtrack, was presented as the actors sang and read the script on Friday night.
The play features a student using an app called Brighter Futures to write essays for class.
“After some argument over the ethical implications, the app is gaining popularity as a secret weapon across the school. The future is bright for all who dream of higher education, prestige and opportunity now,” the press release said.
The publication adds that “a student notices something while working on her history project. “Brighter Futures” is wrong…students agree to confront a teacher about it, only to find out teachers also use “Brighter Futures” to grade students’ work.”
The students then team up to uncover the app and the conspiracy at their school in the play, according to the publication.
Participants in Friday’s reading said the play dealt with a very relevant topic.
Jamil Nichols, from Oswego, who teaches at Thompson Junior High School in Oswego, came with some colleagues and said, “A technology-related piece would be relevant to students because the kids are really into technology and we keep it in the classroom, and we keep kids engaged.”
“I think that’s something that’s contemporary,” she said. “The play also deals with the misuse of technology and I think kids will struggle with that – should I do it or not?
“To bring this closer to students, it’s a great opportunity to introduce students to the arts, a great way to improve what we do in the classroom,” said Nichols.
Nichols’ colleague Teresa Buan, who also teaches at Thompson, said that she “already teaches classes on internet and social media safety” and said the play’s message resonated with students.
“We already have discussions about this because we are concerned about our students and the students themselves are concerned,” Buan said. “But now with all the AI (artificial intelligence) stuff, the students were having conversations with the teachers about how that would affect us.”
Buan admitted she was curious when teachers got caught, noting, “I’m curious to see how they (the playwrights) handle it.”
Amber Mak, who led Friday’s scenic reading, said the “project was really fun.”
“We thought this would be the best play for our audience and I think it will appeal to children. The music is really fun and the play is about technology and interaction with it and the conflicts that kids face all the time,” Mak said. “The conflict of how much technology you should be using and when to cross the line, and that’s cheating, that’s what schools and students are struggling with.”
Jensen hopes the play will gain traction in the coming months.
“Our goal is for this to be present in many schools in the area to further increase access to the arts in our community,” Jensen said. “If we can get 5,000 or 10,000 students to watch this show in the first year and eventually make it a part of the curriculum that schools can expect, that’s our goal. We want to make sure that children of all backgrounds and experiences can come to the theater and if they can’t, we will try to bring the theater to them.”
David Sharos is a freelance reporter for The Beacon-News.