Artistic expression is among the most powerful tools available to any population thirsting for change. This is a truth that is too often ignored. After all, a poem alone won't feed the hungry, a song on its own won't rebuild a town, and a play by itself won't end a war. However, without art, too many vital issues are invisible until the moment they combust. Art shines light on crises, illuminates details, and reveals potential solutions. It is a mighty first step toward concrete change.
It was recently reported that children of Syrian refugees, when provided with crayons and paper, drew heartbreaking pictures of horror and bloodshed. Children who are too young to understand their circumstances, articulated in art the scope of their terror. In so doing, they drew global attention to their urgent needs.
Those reports and accompanying images moved me as I prepared for a recent performance of Imagination Theater’s Take A Stand in Chicago. Instead of crayons and paper, our teaching artists employ theater to focus attention on the issues most pertinent to Chicago students. Those issues change with every school, but the effectiveness of theater remains constant.
After a scene about bullying and prior to bringing an audience volunteer on stage to positively redirect the action, we engaged the audience in a conversation. Discussion quickly turned to the importance of reporting bullying to an adult. I watched administrators nod in approval.
However, the students were not all on board. One brave girl raised her hand and confessed that she hesitates to report bullies for fear that she will suffer retribution from them. There was a second wave of nodding heads, but this time it came from the students in the audience. An opportunity for collaborative learning was created. Administrators discovered the need to address anonymous reporting and assure students that they will be protected from retaliation. The relieved students, smiled as their concerns were addressed and put to rest. Art established a forum to share previously unspoken fears and opened a door for solutions. These are the moments that Imagination Theater's teaching artists are particularly proud of.
We are thrilled that our teaching artists are not working alone to give voice to Chicago's students. Imagination Theater is privileged to be part of Now Is The Time To Act: A coalition of teaching artists from Chicago’s diverse theater community working to end youth violence. Together these committed theaters help students articulate their experiences, fears, hopes, needs, and proposals for change. Performances by participating theaters ignite meaningful conversations within their audiences. Together we can draw attention to the issue of youth violence and contribute to the answer.
Examples of the coalition’s work, upcoming events, and student generated art can be found at http://www.nowisthetimechicago.org. If you are interested in joining the conversation, you are welcome to attend any of the public events.
Imagination Theater is one of many great theaters committed to this cause. Our mission is noble, and any mission shared by many is mighty.
As always, you can learn more about Imagination Theater at www.imaginationtheater.org.
– Jeremy Schaefer