When I last checked in with Evanston’s youth-oriented Mudlark Theater in April 2020, they were in the process of switching to online workshops and creating digital shows. The company has since returned to classes and live performances. And now, with the help of two grants, they are set to expand their focus on the Latinx community in and around Evanston.
The first grant comes from Northwestern University’s Office of Neighborhood and Community Relations in the amount of $47,000 and is for the creation of a new bilingual play based on the experiences and stories of Latinx community. Northwestern professors Myrna García and Henry Godinez (who is also a resident artistic associate at the Goodman Theatre) will collaborate with Mudlark students and staff on the work, which they aim to bring to the public in spring 2023.
The second grant, in the amount of $3,200, comes from Foundation65, a local education funder, to create a bilingual street performance with students from Washington Elementary School in Evanston, using both Latin folk traditions and the principles laid down by Augusto Boal, the Brazilian pioneer. of the Theater of the Oppressed, which emerged in the 1970s. Boal, influenced by the educator and theoretician Paulo Freire (author of Pedagogy of the oppressed), sought to use theater as a means of promoting social change from a leftist perspective.
Mudlark Art Director Andrew Biliter notes in an email that these new programs are not the first time Mudlark has partnered with Evanston’s diverse communities to create work.
“In schools with large Latinx populations, Mudlark has sometimes offered improv classes in Spanish,” says Biliter. “But Mudlark’s most successful outreach efforts to date have focused on engaging and chronicling the legacy of Evanston’s black community. Our 2017 game IDENTIFIER was an original co-production with the (now defunct) Art of Evolution Theater that explored narratives of anti-black racism in our city. Our January 2020 show Regarding Foster was a partnership with the Shorefront Legacy Center, a history center that chronicles the Black experience on Chicago’s North Shore. Foster told the story of Evanston’s all-black K-8 school, its integration, and its eventual closure. Research for the piece included interviews with former students and school administrators. Both productions featured predominantly black actors from Evanston’s youth, and both generated much interest and conversation in the community.
García is an interdisciplinary scholar whose signature course, “Latinx Chicago: Positionality, Community Histories, & Academic Knowledges,” reveals her deep interest in uncovering the history of Latinx activism in Chicago specifically. But she also has a personal reason to feel invested in the Mudlark project.
“My daughter is in the bilingual program [TWI, or two-way immersion] at an elementary school in Evanston. And she participates in the theater. She’s biracial Latina and black, so I thought it was for kids like her, that demographic,” García says. “And then also, the Latinx population in Evanston grew. On the contrary, the Latinx population outside the city of Chicago has really proliferated. As a scholar, this is something I teach. I am an ethnic studies specialist. The whole idea is to really explore the hidden, untold stories that are really, I think, directly related to power. What stories are told, under what circumstances and what archives exist? What counts as knowledge and is worth archiving? »
The plan for the two Mudlark partnerships isn’t just to develop new plays. It is also about creating reproducible programs that can be used in other programs and other classrooms.
Nick Thornton, director of education at Mudlark, notes that the goal of the Washington School project is to “create a program that can accommodate many different student artists and new types of learners. So we wanted to focus on folk art and then the theater of the oppressed to give some sort of foothold for people who might be drawn to folk art puppetry and imagery, or performance, as well than conversational and community-based work. to make plays of the Theater of the Oppressed in the hallway of their school. It’s all sort of centered around the idea of grounding ourselves in lineages and traditions, learning from the past, and then using that knowledge to become people who feel empowered to make changes in their community.
For the Northwestern program, the story-gathering process will likely involve several different community organizations, but the exact timeline and methodology are still being worked out. However, García notes his own experience collecting oral histories, particularly around Rudy Lozano and other Chicago Latinx activists in the 1960s and 1970s, as an example of why this work is so crucial. She hopes that the work created by Mudlark will endure after the initial performance as well.
“I think this is a really great opportunity to really bring out the humanity of Latinx people by really demystifying some of the stereotypes and really capturing that diversity and complexity,” García said. “We are not just a homogeneous population. And I think it’s going to be fair to amplify students’ interests and their voices, whether it’s their own family experiences or a historical vignette in which they’re like, “Wow, I didn’t know this was happening during this migration period. .’ So I’m excited about that creativity and the humanity of that. Sometimes when we’re dealing with the Latinx population, there’s just a lot of negative stereotyping. How to capture this joy?
Capturing joy is something Mudlark has been focused on for all of its young artists since returning from shutdown. Biliter notes, “Many, many kids I work with are still reeling from the mental health implications of the remote school year. It was devastating. We have adjusted our leading and teaching practices accordingly by allowing more time for breaks, to check in, to answer questions or simply to breathe. We no longer assume that children know certain basics about how to handle social situations or act out those situations on stage. They struggle more to offer scenes in small groups. A residency that was originally focused on activism has been repurposed to focus on developing children’s social skills in general, and the feedback has been really positive. You have to meet the children where they are, and where they are is different because some essential experiences have been taken away from them.
Dance Center Changes
Earlier this month, the Columbia College Chicago Dance Center announced the departure of Ellen Chenoweth, director of the Center’s dance presentation series and assistant professor in Columbia’s dance program.
Chenoweth came to Colombia after stints at the renowned multidisciplinary Pig Iron Theater Company in Philadelphia, the nonprofit Dance Exchange collaboration and advocacy, and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. During her five-year tenure at Dance Center, she oversaw the creation of online digital performances, classes, talks and workshops through the Dance Buffet series, which ran during the shutdown. She has also programmed world premieres of artists such as Kyle Abraham (An untitled love) and Emily Johnson, who created her work overnight And then a cunning voice and a night we spend gazing at the stars in 2019 through the Calumet Park Dance Center on the East Side.
In a press announcement, Dance Center noted that the process to determine how to select Chenoweth’s replacement is underway. The Centre’s fall series will be announced shortly.