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Game available through Paramount gets students thinking about artificial intelligence

Henry Otero, 12, a Waldo Middle School student, joined several hundred classmates on a unique in-house field trip at his school in Aurora on Wednesday morning, where students received a lesson about the uses and abuses of technology.

“I got the message that technology is not the answer to everything and that kids are more attached to phones than relationships,” Henry said after watching a play about the use of artificial intelligence in class. “I learned more about it through this performance and it kept my interest. “I enjoyed the music and dancing.”

The newly written play “Brighter Futures” was presented at the school through the Paramount Theater and Paramount School of the Arts in Aurora. The play, which has recently “hit the road”, is performed free of charge in local schools.

Wednesday’s hour-long production featured a cast and crew of about a dozen people who helped tell the story of an app used to write class assignments.

A press release from Paramount said of the game: “After some controversy regarding ethical implications, the app is gaining popularity throughout the school as a secret weapon. The future is now bright for anyone who dreams of higher education, prestige and opportunity.”

The play, which was presented to area educators through a script-only reading nearly a year ago, made its debut last Monday at Cowherd Middle School in Aurora.

Before Wednesday’s performance at Waldo Middle School, Paramount Theater Director of New Works and Associate Artistic Producer Kara Davidson said the play’s debut in front of a live audience led to some changes.

“The idea for this actually started in 2019, so it took a few years for things to get to this point,” he said. “We will be playing nine shows in the next two weeks. We learned a lot from having so many students in the room. “Each performance will feature around 300 students, so you don’t know a piece of the puzzle until you’ve performed for the audience the play is intended for, so we’ve tweaked some things.”

Davidson said that two of the play’s three writers were requested by the play’s eventual director to write the script, and the duo then asked for a third writer to join them.

The play includes original music written by the same trio, as well as extensive choreography.

Waldo Middle School Principal Eileen Roberts said it was great to have the play performed at the school.

“I think it’s a great opportunity for the liberal arts, where students can do theater and learn speaking skills, but I also think it teaches them to engage culturally and see what a theater would be like if they went to the theater, whether it’s the Paramount or some other theater,” Roberts said.

“I love that the message is about technology because we deal with it every day, and overall I think it’s a great opportunity for our kids,” Roberts said. “It’s also a way for kids to learn how to act as viewers and how to listen, and we involve them in that process.”

In terms of follow-up, Roberts said teachers hope students will reflect on what they saw, discuss topics such as theater careers and perhaps complete a writing assignment about the experience.

Chicago actress Laura Quinones, 25, who plays the role of one of the top students at the school who eventually leads others to reject technology, said it was great to have the play performed in local schools.

“I think what I like most about this process is that we’re reaching out to schools where the demographics are very, very diverse and our actors are very diverse, so it’s kind of an opportunity to bring theater to kids and show them how important this is something they can do,” he said.

“The message of ‘Brighter Futures,’ obviously there are a lot of messages in this show,” Quinones said. “Basically it’s, don’t believe everything you see on the internet, believe the people in front of you because they are more important. They are the ones who will keep you safe and happy.”

“In an age where information, especially electronic information, is ubiquitous, I hope our students can decide for themselves what information to believe,” Davidson said.

“The existence of artificial intelligence in our world is not the be-all and end-all,” Davidson said about the game. “My hope is that kids will go home and have discussions with their parents about the same topic we’re all thinking about: what are our responsibilities around technology and intelligence? Brighter futures are about what we make of them, and there’s a scene about investing in friends, being kind, and balancing kindness and honesty rather than spending too much time on apps or electronic devices.”

David Sharos is a freelance reporter for The Beacon-News.

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