Rachel Razgunas is not a typical senior. This coming weekend, she won’t be found at the bars, house parties, or even the libraries. Instead, she’ll be taking the stage in East Quad’s RC Auditorium to perform “On the Playground,” her self-written, one-woman show based on her experiences working with inner-city youths in Detroit.
A combination of prose, poetry, music and dramatic scenes, “On the Playground” will feature the writing and musical talents of Razgunas, a former voice-education major who is now a Humanities major in the Residential College studying English and Creative Writing. With an innovative and unique backdrop of projected slides, her pieces will be performed not only by the writer herself but also by 15 of the six to 13 year olds that she currently works with in the Core City Neighborhoods.
Core City Neighborhoods is a non-profit organization that provides quality, low-income housing for northeast Detroit residents. They also run after school and summer youth programs, both of which Razgunas is affiliated with. Although it is government funded, the program is housed in an old gothic church with classrooms that are actually intended to be storage space. When Razgunas first got involved, she was responsible for developing and implementing educational activities for 11-to-13-year-old Detroit youths.
Razgunas was directed to this challenging, yet fulfilling position through the Michigan Community Service Core, a University of Michigan program providing students with paid internships at non-profit organizations.
Her experience there and her interactions with the staff and children of Core City Neighborhoods inspired the works that will be displayed this weekend and is closely associated with every aspect of the show. “Working with Core City youth took me down uncharted paths, along which I encountered situations encompassing such issues as racial awareness, educational and social inequality,” said Razgunas.
Emotionally and morally affected by such eye-opening opportunities, she began compiling her thoughts in the form of poetry and prose. She later put some of the poems to music and wrote dramatic scenes to form the entertaining and diverse final product.
“On the Playground” is more than just a platform to display Razgunas’ creativity; it is also a fundraiser for Core City Neighborhoods. She is performing in hopes that the $3 or two cans of food admission required to get in will help provide much needed funds for the program. She also hopes that students in the audience will learn from her experience and extend their time as a volunteer as well. “Because of September 11th, a lot of people decided to put their money elsewhere, so I’m hoping people will get inspired to go out there and help out,” said Razgunas.
Perhaps most importantly, Razgunas hopes that University students will populate the audience so that they can provide lasting impressions on the Core City youths that will be attending. Along with the 15 children performing, there will be several traveling from Detroit on a field trip just to watch the show. “The more people that are in the audience, the more exciting it will be for the kids,” she said.
Despite her high hopes for Saturday night, Razgunas already feels a sense of accomplishment. She continues to volunteer at Core City Neighborhoods, running weekly theater workshops for as many students as are interested. Their participation in the show has been the highlight for her, making Razgunas’ final experience with them (before graduation and moving to New York City to participate in Teach for America) a rewarding one. “They’re really excited. They like it when all the attention is on them,” she said.