High School Students Portray Personalities from the Portrait Gallery

James Tindle chose Rudolph Valentino as his inspiration. Valentino was a silent film star known for his seductive stare. Warren Perry, National Portrait Gallery
Maryum Abdullah (left) channels famous dancer Irene Castle. During her monologue, Abdullah offers dancing tips to the audience. Katrina Phillips (right) explores the complex emotions behind Marilyn Monroe. Warren Perry, National Portrait Gallery
Jasmine Clark originally chose Juliette Gordon Low because she loved her pink dress. After researching the founder of the Girl Scout Organization, Clark found that she had a lot in common with Low. Warren Perry, National Portrait Gallery
Kevin Bouknight, as artist John Williams, pulled two audience members into his performance and had them hold hands to demonstrate that skin color, gender and shape don’t really matter. Warren Perry, National Portrait Gallery
Abdullah’s monologue explained how Irene Castle and her husband Vernon made their ballroom dancing debut in Paris and how she was lost after he died. Warren Perry, National Portrait Gallery
Aysha Preston, the only one in the group to have acting experience, tells the story of Lena Horne and how she struggled to be herself when her role in society was decided before she was even born. Warren Perry, National Portrait Gallery
Tiana Long sings the beginning and ending of her monologue as opera singer Leotyne Price. Price was best known for playing Aida in Giuseppe Verdi’s opera by the same name. Warren Perry, National Portrait Gallery
In her monologue, Phillips outlines Monroe’s struggle to be taken seriously as an actress instead of just an “it” girl. Warren Perry, National Portrait Gallery
Bouknight waits around the corner during Ashley Hughes’ monologue in which she performs as civil rights activist Angela Davis. Davis spent time in jail after being implicated when her brother used her gun to kill a judge. At the end of her performance, Bouknight and Tindle “dragged” her away. Warren Perry, National Portrait Gallery
Clark, Preston and Phillips gather for the ending sequence in which each performer explains what they found out about themselves. Warren Perry, National Portrait Gallery

A few dozen visitors gathered in the Kogod Courtyard yesterday to watch a student performance entitled "2009 Portraits Alive! Lost and Found." The sunlight reflected off the dress of one Washington DC-area student portraying dancer Irene Castle and illuminated the shrouded face of another teen dressed to the nines as actor Rudolph Valentino.

The event was a culmination of a summer-long program administered by the DC Department of Employment Services. The students spent eight weeks learning about careers in the museum and preparing for their big debut—a full-dress theatrical tour highlighting the personalities and stories of the people whose portraits hang in the National Portrait Gallery. Each student researched and wrote a monologue in character and submitted it the museum's historians for careful analysis of the facts.  "The monologues were pulled from quotes so the students didn't interpret too much," says Rebecca Kasemeyer, director of education at the museum.

The first performer, Jasmine Clark, a recent graduate of Archbishop Carroll High School, chose Girl Scout founder Juliette Gordon Low, largely because she fancied the pretty pink dress she would get to wear. (The students also spent the summer creating their costumes to match the outfits their historical counterparts wore in the portraits.) "When I was writing my monologue, I found that we're very similar in our personalities," Clark says. "I like to help people, but I'm not going to start an organization. I want to be a lawyer."

The performances are timed in lock-step fashion—not one minute is wasted or ignored. After James Tindle's, a senior at Booker T. Washington Public Charter School, monologue as Rudolph Valentino ends in one room, Aysha Preston, a graduate of Grace Brethren Christian School, is already singing as Lena Horne, on the upper level. Arena Stage provided the students with performance tips, assistance in script writing and other acting exercises.

Tiana Long, who chose opera singer Leotyne Price, sings the beginning and ending of her monologue. Her long green jacket and pearl necklace are stunningly identical to the outfit that Price is wearing in the painting hanging on the wall behind her. Long was lucky she got to borrow her costume, the only one the museum owns. The others had to pieced together their outfits from other costumes and purchases at thrift stores.  Clark's Juliette Low costume, her much fancied pink dress, was bought from a thrift shop and Clark and the staff gussied it up with additional layers.

See each student's historic portrayal in the photo gallery below.

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