Actor and motivational speaker John Morello performed his one-man show “Dirt” in front of 600 riveted teenagers on Thursday in the Performing Arts Center (PAC). His performance was the second in the series of speakers brought to Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) through a collaboration with Connect to End Violence and the Youth Task Force.
“Dirt,” which covers a breadth of topics such as mental health, substance abuse, and sexual assault, is a solo performance in which Mr. Morello portrays four different characters— three students and a grandpa — who are all derived from the experiences and stories of real people. Mr. Morello wrote pieces of the show while performing as a comic, unsure of how he would eventually tie them together.
“I had all of these disparate ideas, but I didn’t know how I was going to synthesize them,” he said, “but I just kept writing in faith. [The characters] were based on people and snippets of conversations I remembered from growing up, but they’re not exact copies. I love my friends too much to imitate them onstage, and I fear my enemies’ lawyers too much to imitate them onstage.”
Mr. Morello’s unique approach to motivational speaking — acting and storytelling as opposed to lecturing and preaching — resonated with students. Freshman Alison Custer said, “He presented the messages in a way that wasn’t preaching. Because it was a performance, it allowed you to just enjoy it and think about it.”
“I think art in general is a better way to reach people,” Mr. Morello said during a visit to an English class later in the day. “Art tends to stick with us longer.”
School adjustment counselor Amy Lilavois said, “I love theater, and I think that in the one-man show, he just did every character so well. Everybody in the building, even the adults, could relate to at least one of those characters.”
Junior Imani Hall said, “Because of its relatability, and because it covered such a broad range of topics, there was one part that everyone could connect to.”
Heather Arpin, a counselor at Connect to End Violence, said, “I think that anybody in the school community could be dealing with one of the different issues that he brings up — things like bullying, substance abuse, dating violence, sexual violence, peer pressure, and depression.”
In addition to the relatability of his performance, students were engaged by Mr. Morello’s humor. “I heard people belly-laughing,” said Imani.
Freshman Ben Belisle said, “I liked how he taught us something, but did it in a funny way.”
Students also expressed their appreciation for the vulnerability and sincerity Morello shared. “His [show] didn’t feel like a lecture at all, he was just telling his story,” said senior Victoria Scott. “It was entertaining as well as informative, and I feel like a lot of people actually came away with a good idea of what the message was.”
From his performance, Morello hopes students take away a feeling of compassion toward one another and toward themselves. “I want people to feel a little less alone. I want people to see me telling my own story and the stories of others, and maybe that empowers them to get to know their own story more,” he said.