Friday, August 12, 2011

In the Blink of an Eye

By Teresa Rende, Education and Community Engagement Associate

The Goodman’s General Theatre Studies (GTS) program is a lot like Christmas, your birthday, or any other much anticipated annual celebration—it comes but once a year. As the second to last week of June approaches I get nervous and excited; before I can blink the Goodman lobby is filled with 80 Chicago-area teenagers, bustling with energy, ideas and opinions. The moment I do blink, it is already the first week of August and they are gone. The hallways seem quiet, almost eerily so. I peek into the Healy Rehearsal room only to find the student-written autobiographies off the walls, the cubbies empty of iPods and backpacks, and the garbage cans distinctly lacking the teen treats I have been accustomed to seeing over six weeks. How did it all pass so quickly?

It is their unbridled energy and willingness to share that makes the time fly by. This summer, especially, the teens explored new ways to tell stories and devise theater, and I was constantly enthralled. For the first time, our GST students (all age 14 - 19) worked with our GeNarrations participants (all residents of a Chicago Area senior center). While the students write their own play annually, this year they incorporated stories from seniors at different local centers into their final production. What sounds like cacophony in the hall morphed into stories spanning almost a century on stage. A young woman, Grace, played the roll of a male soldier, forced to cope with death after prisoners in a war camp accidentally drank tainted water under his watch (above). Another young woman, Taylor, played the role of a white woman confronting her daughter, who wants to date a young black man, in the early 1960s. Gary, an African American male, played the role of a white woman fighting for female equality (below).

The students this summer tackled an incredible undertaking. For the first summer ever, the final GTS performance was comprised of not only their stories, but also the stories of Chicago seniors. After interviewing these seniors, and finding narratives to weave along side their own, the teens went even further into exploration. They took on different ages, genders, races, sexual orientations, and put themselves on stage in the shoes of another human. From the audience of the Owen, I witnessed decades of history in 90 minutes.

I suppose it makes sense that the six weeks passed before I had time to realize it; GTS students have mastered the art of time travel, on stage and off.

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