“Real World Performing Arts” was piloted as a new class in Upper School this past semester. Mary Jane Pagenstecher and Tiki Fuhro co-taught this hands-on journey through performing arts for social change. Students explored dramatic literature through the ages, became familiar with a variety of protest songs, and were exposed to the work of dancers, musicians, and theatre artists who have used their art form as a platform for social change. Monologues were learned for performance, and students learned several techniques for making dances and understanding songwriting structures. Students also worked with a set of questions for analyzing performances so that (using non-judgmental language) they could be more articulate about what they found effective.
Seeing a live performance became a priority, so we attended Refuge/Malja by local playwright and theatre artist, Bess Welden, at Portland Stage Company. We had the opportunity to hear from the performers afterwards and were treated to a classroom visit from the playwright. Bess shared her motivation for writing this play about a photojournalist caught in a difficult dilemma during the Syrian refugee crisis. It was a great opportunity to see the play and speak with an artist who is dedicated to making theatre for social change.
The play was effective on different levels. It included some powerful images as part of the set design—a pile of abandoned shoes, for instance. The poetic language was written in both English and Arabic. The play ended with a difficult decision for the main character, and the outcome was not revealed. One class member said, “This turned the question on the audience. I left asking myself, ‘what would I do?’”
Having Bess visit as guest artist gave students an opportunity to ask questions about her creative process. She reflected on how much she had learned from her collaborators during the process of bringing the play to production. She said that she hoped the piece would create a space for people to think about and discuss the issues. We were left acknowledging that there are many difficult situations in the world and that they deserve our time, thought, and action.
Some student responses:
- “Seeing Refuge/Malja made me realize what a big issue the refugee crisis is.”
- “Seeing the play allowed me to see how the refugee crisis affects everyone.”
- “Meeting the playwright made me realize where she was coming from and how she got the inspiration.”
- “The playwright opened my eyes to the white perspective of the refugee crisis.”
- “I appreciated seeing local teens in the production and hearing Arabic on stage.”
The students in Real World Performing Arts class ended the semester by creating an interdisciplinary performance piece about immigration.