Sex, grades and homework

For Jewish audio engineer David Torgersen, walking into a high school a few years after graduating proved quite the surreal experience. He realized how things had changed by picking up on the slang going around San Francisco’s Galileo Academy of Science and Technology.

“They had all kinds of new terms,” says Torgersen, who had come to Galileo to work with students on a unique art project. “Like ‘hifee,’ which means to go all out.”

Torgersen and 50 Galileo students indeed went hifee on a new theater piece co-written and engineered by Torgersen and produced by Antenna, an award-winning audio-based theater company in Marin. Galileo’s “High School Project” premieres Friday, Oct. 22, and runs through November.

The “show” is a 40-minute walk-through performance piece. Each audience member dons an MP3 player to experience the accompanying soundtrack — a collage of student voices covering such topics as sex, grades and homework, all enhanced by music and special effects.

The piece was designed as a solo experience. One at a time, audience members traverse a prescribed path across the campus, with stops at designated sites where student actors interact with them.

This is one-on-one theater.

“The kids got to tell a story about their school, but done in a strange way,” says Torgersen. “We built the script around the things that they said. Galileo has a very ethnic population, mostly Asian, African American and Hispanic. Not too many Jews.”

One of the few Jews involved with the project is Galileo English teacher Allison Heskin, the driving force behind bringing Antenna to Galileo. She had seen an earlier version of the “High School Project” at Tamalpais High School in Marin several years ago and wanted to bring the experience to her school.

Heskin contacted Antenna, and by last spring, grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Fleishhacker Foundation (among others) assured funding for the Galileo project. Heskin sent out the call for students to participate, a task made harder as Galileo has no drama department.

Torgersen, who has worked with Antenna in the past, loved the experience of working with kids. He has two young children of his own, and is a Jew-by-choice.

“I married the rabbi’s daughter,” he says. “We’re big fans of Shabbat. My wife knows all the songs and she sings beautifully. The music is so much better than the Lutheran I grew up with.”

Coincidentally, Modesto-native Heskin is also a Jew-by-choice. “My grandparents were Jewish,” she says, “but they converted to Catholicism.” In adulthood, and after meeting her Jewish husband-to-be, she returned to Judaism.

With the premiere of the “High School Project,” Heskin now hopes Galileo will develop more creative arts programs.

“So often there is negative media about our school and urban education in general,” she says. “They overlook how talented, amazing, resilient and insightful our kids are.”

“High School Project” plays continuously from 6 to 9 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 1:30 to 5 p.m. Sundays, Oct. 22 through Nov. 7, at Galileo Academy of Science and Technology, 1150 Francisco St., S.F. Tickets: $7.70-$15. Reservations required: (415) 332-9454.

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.