The Rolling Hills Estates residence had all the signs of a “happening” party: Cars lined the neighborhood streets, beer bottles littered the front lawn. Teens laughed and lingered outside, while popular drinking games such as beer pong, beer bongs and keg stands drew chants and cheers from the inside. Not an average high school party, this “Reality Party” resembled reality TV. Student scripted lines and improv aimed to keep it real.
Except this PV party was for parents.
Palos Verdes High School student actors, in conjunction with Straight Up Reality Improv, the award-winning Ventura-based social advocacy theater group, partnered with local law enforcement, educators and PVHS administrators to facilitate parent and community awareness of teen partying, including binge drinking, illegal drugs and random sex. The group of professional improvisers and educators aim to create lasting social change concerning cultural norms seemingly permissive of risky behavior, and encourage communication among parents and teens.
“Community dialogue is an important part of addressing these issues,” said Katherine Kasmir, executive director and founder of the group.
Since 2007, Straight Up Reality Improv has staged Reality Parties for Parents designed to educate community members on the harsh realities of high school parties, including broader social implications such as overdoses, lifelong addictions, drunk driving arrests, fatalities and incarceration.
“Underage drinking and drug use is at its worst,” agrees Lynda Westlund, a former PVHS student turned trial attorney specializing in criminal law, including working with gangs and juvenile offenders. Teenagers today face increasingly dangerous situations at parties, no matter where they reside, organizers said.
Yet simulated Straight Up Reality Improv parties reflect steady societal tolerance toward teenage alcohol and drug use in affluent communities, along with the increasing availability of prescription drugs and potency of legalized strains of recreational and medicinal cannabis.
Parents take tours of 'party'
Straight Up Reality Improv professionals not only direct student actors in simulated sessions to educate parents with information on teen partying and drug use, but Kasmir also acts as parent “tour guide” for improvisational/interactive simulated party scenes every half hour.
Scenes depicting student actors bragging about fake IDs, stealing alcohol from parents and boasting about the stimulating effects of energy drinks might not seem like cause for alarm, but by the end of the Jan. 21 pretend party, teens posed as passed out and blacked out as well as puking in wastebaskets.
On the Peninsula, police presence is not uncommon at teenage house parties. Lomita Sheriff Sgt. Doug Shive arrived and schooled parents on the legalities facing adults who allow alcohol consumption at teen parties. Following the performance, parents were encouraged to discuss viewing experiences through a series of debriefing panels, sharing strategies for keeping kids sober and safe.
But are reality parties promoted by people who don’t drink or do drugs —along with scripted lines by teetotaling student actors— effective, realistic tools for social change at the high school level?
“It’s about checking in with others and changing the culture of parents,” Kasmir said. “Parents need to change the way they think about parties, set clear expectations and get to know their teens.”
‘Reality party’ needed in PV
Schools must also be more proactive in preventing reckless teenage behavior, organizers said. After attending a reality party in Thousand Oaks, PVHS school nurse Marisa Trevett and counselor Christina Sunada knew such an event was needed in PV.
“Everyone learned a lot,” Trevett said. “It was well received by all the parents. Something like this has never been done on the Peninsula. We need to educate parents on the Hill about the culture of today’s teens. It’s different then when most of the parents were growing up.”
PVHS is the first area school to partner with Straight Up Reality Improv parties, and it remains unclear whether Reality Parties for Parents will be lasting deterrents in curtailing what many say is a rampant drug problem among students at all three Peninsula high schools. Party plans for area middle school parents are reportedly in the works.
“I think this information is good for parents to have before their kids get to high school,” Kasmir said.
Upcoming Reality Parties for Parents are scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 25 in Malibu and Saturday, March 25 in Agora Hills/Westlake Village. Volunteers are encouraged. The events are made possible through Ventura Country Behavioral Health Department, Alcohol and Drug Programs.