How getting in trouble for skipping class may have saved this teen's life.

As a member of the Bloods, Trinidad Ramkissoon never expected to make it to Broadway.

Ramkissoon was the youngest of seven children, and while his immigrant parents worked hard to provide for them, the family still struggled, even enduring a bout of homelessness after their Cambridge, Massachusetts, apartment burned down.

With his father working 16-hour days and his only brother in prison for a violent crime, Ramkissoon was on the lookout for role models — and on the streets of Cambridge, gang life was the best option he could see.


“This was a family connection for me for a long time,” he told the Boston Globe in 2012. “Sometimes I [still] wear [the gang flag] just to own that — to, like, acknowledge it.”

Central Square, Cambridge, near where Ramkissoon grew up. Photo by Tony Webster/Flickr.

By the age of 12, Ramkissoon had already been arrested, which led to a school suspension.

From the start, he wasn't set up for success.

Trinidad Ramkissoon. Photo via Huntington Theatre Company/YouTube.

It comes as no surprise, then, that Ramkissoon would be caught skipping class as a high school freshman. But it was a mistake that would change everything.

He and his friends were reprimanded by Elaine Koury, the director of the arts program at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, who also worked with a local company called Underground Railway Theater. She was struck by how apologetic — and charismatic — Ramkissoon was and decided to recruit him into a youth theater program.

It was there that Ramkissoon began to learn how to let his guard down.

“It opened something up in me,” he says. “And even more it connected me with Vincent [Siders, one of the teaching artists], who took on a father role with me and started saying what I needed to hear — even when the words have been tough and I haven’t liked what he was saying.”

Ramkissoon on stage. Photo via Huntington Theatre Company/YouTube.

High school theater programs are known to reduce dropout rates by giving students a shared sense of purpose and responsibility — and a reason to continue attending school.

Theater wouldn't stop Ramkissoon from dropping out at first, but it did help bring him back.

After about a year out of school, he enrolled in Boston Day and Evening Academy, a unique program that helps students re-engage in academics on a personalized education track.

As a student there, he also discovered the plays of August Wilson through a partnership with another local theater company.

August Wilson. Photo via Huntington Theatre Company/Flickr.

Wilson was an African-American renowned for “Century Cycle,” a series of 10 interconnected plays that explore the black experience in America, each across a different decade of the 21st century. Ramkissoon was particularly drawn to the character of Troy Maxson in the award-winning play (and now movie) “Fences.”

“I was a high school dropout. I know what it means to feel like you’re on first base,” Ramkissoon said, referring to one of Maxson’s monologues in the play. “I thought it was amazing that [the character] had the courage to want to make it to second base — not to get home, but just to go to second base.”

Ramkissoon got involved in the August Wilson Monologue Competition, a national theater contest organized by Tony Award-winner Kenny Leon.

His performance of Troy Maxson’s moving monologue was good enough to earn him a spot in the national finals — on the set of Leon’s Broadway production of “A Raisin in the Sun,” where he got to perform for people like Denzel Washington.

"For many of our students through the city, being invisible is the way of safety and surviving," said one teacher from Boston Day and Evening Academy. "Yet these young people [like Trinidad] ... find their voices and courageously say, 'see me and hear the truth that I have to tell.'"

“The fact that my voice gets to be heard on this platform… These are all opportunities that kids like us don’t get,” he told the Boston Globe on the eve of the finals. “I already won.”

Trinidad Ramkissoon, in back, on his way to the August Wilson Monologue Competition. Photo via Huntington Theatre Company.

Ramkissoon didn’t end up winning the national competition  — but he did get to be the speaker when he graduated high school.

Students like Ramkissoon who come from lower socioeconomic statuses are more than 30% more likely to pursue a bachelor’s degree if they’ve experienced a high-arts education. They’re also twice as likely to choose a major that aligns them with a professional career, even if it’s not related to the theater.

But, perhaps most importantly, a theater education can mean the difference between a life on the streets and a life fulfilled, where talented people like Trinidad Ramkissoon can live up to their potential and become a part of something bigger than themselves.

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Andy Grammer, the pop singer and songwriter behind feel-good tunes like "Keep Your Head Up," "Back Home," and "Don't Give Up on Me," has a new album out—and it is seriously fabulous. Titled simply "Naive," Grammer says it's "all about how seeing the good in todays world can feel like a rebellious act."

"I wrote this album for the light bringers," Grammer shared on Facebook. "The people who choose to see the good even in the overwhelming chaos of the bad. The smilers who fight brick by brick to build an authentic smile everyday, even when it seems like an impossible thing to do. For those who have been marginalized as 'sweet' or 'cute' or 'less powerful' for being overly positive. To me optimism is a war to be fought, possibly the most important one. If I am speaking to you and you are relating to it then know I made this album for you. You are my tribe. I love you and I hope it serves you. Don't let the world turn down your shine, we all so badly need it."

Reading that, it's easy to think maybe he really is naive, but Grammer's positivity isn't due to nothing difficult ever happening in his life. His mom, Kathy, died of breast cancer when Grammer was 25. He and his mother were very close, and her life and death had a huge impact on him.

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via Stratford Festival / Twitter

Service dogs are invaluable to their owners because they are able to help in so many different ways.

They're trained to retrieve dropped Items, open and close doors, help their owners remove their clothes, transport medications, navigate busy areas such as airports, provide visual assistance, and even give psychological help.

The service dog trainers at K-9 Country Inn Working Service Dogs in Canada want those who require service dogs to live the fullest life possible, so they're training dogs on how to attend a theatrical performance.

The adorable photos of the dogs made their way to social media where they quickly went viral.

On August 15, a dozen dogs from Golden Retrievers to poodles, were treated to a performance of "Billy Elliott" at the Stratford Festival in Ontario, Canada. This was a special "relaxed performance" featuring quieter sound effects and lighting, designed for those with sensory issues.

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"It's important to prepare the dogs for any activity the handler may like to attend," Laura Mackenzie, owner and head trainer at K-9 Country Inn Working Service Dogs, told CBC.

"The theater gives us the opportunity to expose the dogs to different stimuli such as lights, loud noises, and movement of varying degrees," she continued. "The dogs must remain relaxed in tight quarters for an extended period of time."

The dogs got to enjoy the show from their own seats and took a break with everyone else during intermission. They were able to familiarize themselves with the theater experience so they know how to navigate through crowds and fit into tight bathroom stalls.

via Stratford Festival / Twitter


via Stratford Festival / Twitter


via Stratford Festival / Twitter

"About a dozen dogs came to our relaxed performance, and they were all extremely well-behaved," says Stratford Festival spokesperson Ann Swerdfager. "I was in the lobby when they came in, then they took their seats, then got out of their seats at intermission and went back — all of the things we learn as humans when we start going to the theater."

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The dogs' great performance at the trial run means that people who require service animals can have the freedom to enjoy special experiences like going to the theater.

"It's wonderful that going to the theater is considered one of the things that you want to train a service dog for, rather than thinking that theater is out of reach for people who require a service animal, because it isn't," Swerdfager said.

The Stratford Festival runs through Nov. 10 and features productions of "The Merry Wives of Windsor," "The Neverending Story," "Othello," "Billy Elliot," "Little Shop of Horrors," "The Crucible" and more.

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