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Teacher-actor Aaron Braxton takes his classroom to the stage

January 18, 2012 | 10:30 am

Aaronbraxton
If you read Aaron Braxton’s old high school yearbook, it says he wants to be an actor, a writer and a teacher. Today, he’s found a way of doing all three — often at the same time.

Braxton is the writer, producer and star of “Did You Do Your Homework?,” a semi-autobiographical solo show about a substitute teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District who takes over a class of inner-city kids. In addition to himself, Braxton plays more than 10 other parts — reconstructions of students, parents, colleagues and administrators he’s encountered in his 15 years of teaching in the district. 

There’s sassy Laquita, who can’t go two seconds without complaining. Bryan, the pant-sagging, too-cool-for-school type who secretly wants to be better. Other characters include their vulgar, mostly absent parents; fed-up fellow teachers; and the embodiment of bureaucracy, a testing coordinator who rattles off, in a nasal monotone, the never-ending, faintly threatening catalog of standardized tests the students must pass if they — and the school — are to succeed. 

Lighter, satirical moments such as these are darkened by the realities these students face. Braxton explores the ill effects of gang culture, poverty and poor role models on the school system.

“The goal is to motivate,” Braxton says of the show. “I pray before every performance that people will be moved to the point where they will take action in their community.” 

Braxton was raised in circumstances not far removed from those of his more troubled students. In the show, he relates stories about his monstrous stepfather, courageous mother, drug and alcohol abuse and an influential teacher who, in one of Braxton’s favorite sayings, saw greatness in him. Braxton put himself through college at San Diego State University and not long after became a full-time teacher in LAUSD, eventually cutting back to subbing so he could pursue his acting career.

Braxton first conceived of “Did You Do Your Homework?” a few years ago, when an acting instructor at the Beverly Hills Playhouse encouraged him to write something for himself.

“At my core, I like to motivate,” Braxton says. “If I’m going to put something out there for people to come and pay money to see, it has to be something that I’m really passionate about. It was a no-brainer to do education.”

Braxton brought on a director friend, Gregg Daniel, to work with him on the script. Daniel says he was “swayed by [Braxton’s] passion.”

“He didn’t have to tell this story, he didn’t have to take this on,” Daniel, a freelance theater director in Los Angeles, says. “He’s young and can do anything he wants. Why should he care? I was always impressed that he cared. He wasn’t aloof or just taking care of himself. He went overboard to take care of these kids.”

“Did You Do Your Homework?” became the longest-running show in the history of the Beverly Hills Playhouse, and Braxton went on to perform it at the National Black Theatre Festival. It’s now in its second Los Angeles run.

“Every time I perform it, I thank God,” he says.

But it’s his teaching career — Braxton thinks he wants to be a college professor someday — that keeps him motivated.

“As I continue to pursue the entertainment industry, I also have a job that I love — that I love getting up for in the morning,” Braxton says. “Most performers can’t say that.” 

The Asylum Lab, 1078 Lillian Way, L.A. 8 p.m. Fri.-Sat., 3 p.m. Sun. Ends Feb. 5. $22. (800) 838-3006 or www.brownpapertickets.com

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— Jason Kehe

Above: Aaron Braxton is the writer-director-actor of "Did You Do Your Homework?" Credit: Arkasha Stevenson / Los Angeles Times

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