Summer in Sanctuary

by Alexandra McClain
“We think we get it, but we really don’t,” said Al Letson about the idea of poverty. It is part of an underlying issue that he addresses in his play Summer in Sanctuary. The play will be performed at MOCA June 1st and 2nd at 8pm and June 3rd at 2pm.
Some may know Letson from NPR as the host of State of the ReUnion. However it’s no secret that he’s also known as an actor, playwright, and a poet. Summer in Sanctuary has been performed in several other cities including New York and Baltimore. The story is told through Letson’s one-man show using monologue, poetry, song and other multimedia elements.
The play centers around Letson’s personal experience of teaching at a local community center for kids in an economically challenged neighborhood. The Sanctuary is located in the Springfield area of Jacksonville. During the summer of 2006 Letson intended to teach the kids creative writing, but instead learned a few things himself. Summer in Sanctuary is Letson’s journey in learning about a world he said he had no experience of.
“Poverty changes everything,” he said. “This play shows you another part of the community that you don’t know about.” The play shines a light on the way poverty affects the youth and the unexpected struggles they face. In one scene Letson speaks of Biko. Biko has moved to America to escape a rough life in Africa only to realize that maybe America isn’t that much better. While portraying different youth from the Sanctuary, Letson gives his audience insight into how youth view the world around them and how it can easily get distorted because of their surrounding environment.
What Letson hopes people truly take away from the play is that helping make a change in the lives of under privileged youth, doesn’t require giving up your life and becoming a saint. By no means does Letson claim to be a hero. He simply considers himself to be just an average guy.
“I really didn’t know what I was doing,” he said. However, he felt like his contributions were always valid even though he felt he hadn’t done much in the end. Letson understands now, that although the problem seems big, the little bit you can give can change the world for somebody else. Giving a little bit can go a long way.