On Sept. 13, members of On Stage stopped by St. John’s Hall on the St. Paul campus to engage with 36 students in the Masters in Advocacy and Political Leadership program. The group attending the event was comprised of two separate classes: Political and Advocacy Leadership and Organizing and Communication for Advocacy.
On Stage also attended an Introduction to Creative Writing (WRIT 251) class on the Midway campus on Monday, September 16.
On Stage is a Twin Cities-based organization that brings actors and plays from local theatre productions into teaching environments. “Since I launched On Stage in the fall of 2016, we have discussed twelve plays from nine local theaters with 3000 college and high school students, and over 1000 of these students paid to see the show that we were promoting, discussing,” said Lucas Erickson, the organization’s founder and project manager.
On Stage Advisor Nora Montanez and Teaching Artist Wendy Knox attended the joint class session to introduce the play “Escaped Alone,” which is playing at the Gremlin Theater through Sept. 29. Their work with On Stage focuses on engaging new and nontraditional theatre audiences and exposing them to the creative power of theater.
The presenters discussed the background of the play, including information about the playwright, Caryl Churchill, and the devices she uses to stimulate audience engagement.
Several students had a chance to read lines from the play, and all of them spent time in small groups discussing their interpretations of a scene.
The conversation centered on deconstructing the language and ideas in the play itself, yet it also included space for students to explore and take apart the ideas that inform their own perspective.
“We’re going to use this [experience] to think about how we tell stories,” said Adrienne Falcon, associate professor in the College of Community Studies and Public Affairs. The On Stage event is an appealing curriculum addition for many instructors as another way to introduce important concepts.
On Stage has been hosting events in Metro State classrooms for the last three years. Each year, the group books between 50 and 75 engagements—in libraries, colleges and high schools, churches and recovery groups.
According to Erickson, “The purpose of On Stage—a fiscally sponsored program through Springboard for the Arts—is to enhance in-class learning, make local theater relevant to younger and non-traditional audiences and to lay the groundwork for building future theater attendances.”
To that end, it appeared to be a successful collaboration with Metro State’s students.
Participants were engaged by the material, and their conversations were lively and introspective. Students vocalized the tension and fears they feel about things like the environment, natural disasters and aging.
“I’m afraid of not having what it takes to do what I need to do,” expressed one student during the discussion.
While students explored their own fears and expectations, they related those feelings to the language and ideas expressed in the play excerpts.
The goal of the activity never seemed to be to create consensus, but rather to use the ideas and format of the play to create space for dialog—a dialog that could be uncomfortable or tense in another environment.
Students laughed, disagreed and explored the differences in how they understood the themes, which while stressful or dark, seemed relatable to all. “It was like … an artist who makes good art out of garbage,” said student Greg Odeneal, commenting on the play’s subject matter.
In the end, reactions to the play were varied, but everyone seemed to find something of value in On Stage’s presentation.
Student Willie Pearl Evans, who did her undergraduate work in English, really valued the thinking that the play’s content facilitated. She lamented, “We’re so caught up in structure.” Evans appreciated how the discussion helped address problems without the confines of traditional frameworks.
Another student, Artiste Mayfield, said, “I thought it was all like kinda crazy, like actually, I wouldn’t go see it.” But then she quickly qualified that by saying, “On the flip side of that, I think crazy people will go see it.”
More information about On Stage is available on their website, Onstagemn.org.