Steamboat students delve into 'The Things They Carried' with workshop

Erin Ronder, a teaching artist at the American Place Theatre, talks with English students at Steamboat Springs High School. The class was part of One Book Steamboat, which is focusing on the novel "The Things They Carried," a series of short stories by Vietnam veteran Tim O'Brien.

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Steamboat Springs High School English student Dylan Wallace focuses on a writing project during a One Book Steamboat workshop Tuesday at Steamboat Springs High School. The workshop focused on the novel “The Things They Carried,” by Vietnam veteran Tim O’Brien.

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Steamboat Springs High School English student Maddie Owen focuses on a writing project during a One Book Steamboat workshop Tuesday that focused on the novel "The Things They Carried" by Vietnam veteran Tim O'Brien.

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Steamboat Springs High School English student Jacob Ginesta focuses on a writing project Tuesday as part of a project during a One Book Steamboat workshop at the Steamboat Springs High School.

— It wouldn’t have been an easy decision for anyone, but at 8 years old, Jonathan Martinez was the one who had to make it on his own.

He played kickball in the street and enjoyed his time in Mexico, but he ultimately decided to leave some of his family and his home to return to the United States.

Now a sophomore at Steamboat Springs High School, Martinez, who said he’s never acted before, played out the scenes of that decision with a group of his classmates.

In three sentences and three frozen poses, the group of five told the story as part of a Literature to Life workshop with the American Place Theatre on Tuesday afternoon.

“I still hear my mom’s sorrow,” read the last sentence. It cut through the jubilant and chatter-filled classroom with a somber weight — illustrative of the consequences Martinez now carries with him. But he wouldn’t have changed that decision.

“I’m happy,” he said. “This is a good place.”

Decisions and consequences were the centerpiece of the interdisciplinary workshop in the high school’s American Studies class, led by American Place Theatre teaching artist Erin Ronder.

Ronder, who is visiting Steamboat from New York, used conversation, writing, interpersonal activities and theater to illustrate how the featured book, “The Things They Carried,” wraps into even larger themes than the Vietnam War story so painstakingly displayed in the fictional memoir.

“The things you carry all relate into how you approach different decisions,” Ronder told the group in closing. “There are reasons we do what we do.”

And it was the sharing of these reasons that she said helps build a community out of the classroom.

Author Tim O’Brien “chose to share an experience that is not often talked about,” Ronder said. “It helps us reflect on some of our own.”

Teachers Deirdre Boyd and Jennifer Gabriel sat and looked on as the students acted out decisions in their lives in which they refused to give up, in which they chose to give back to their community or found a new beginning.

“It’s a really relevant closing to the book,” said Gabriel, who has been teaching “The Things They Carried” to this particular group along with Boyd for the past three weeks. “It’s culminating the whole experience for them.

“The book itself not only leaves you with a real feeling of Vietnam, but it becomes an important story of the process of writing. It’s very universal.”

Despite the difficult subject matter and sometimes downright depressing nature of the book, Gabriel said some of her students had told her it was their favorite thing they’d ever read.

“It’s not about every fact, it’s about the reader leaving the story with a strong feeling of Vietnam,” she said.

She said she uses O’Brien’s lectures in her writing class to help illustrate the potential for fiction — how in some way it’s all based in some reality.

In culminating the book’s lesson with the workshop with Ronder and, for many, the stage performance of “The Things They Carried” on Tuesday night at Strings Music Pavilion, the students were taking steps toward telling their own stories, which they’re building experience by experience, decision by decision.

To reach Nicole Inglis, call 970-871-4204 or email ninglis@ExploreSteamboat.com

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