By Sarah Myers
Arts programs in higher education are all the more vibrant when a wealth of voices and bodies come together to create and discuss work. Community-engaged performance is progressive pedagogy; it’s theater by, for, of, and about the people—and it can be an integral part of a civic-minded college culture.
Last winter, the student ensemble of The Living Newspaper Project: Everyone Has Something used collective research, writing, workshops, and performance to generate discussion about a taboo topic: the stigma attached to mental illness. They engaged with audiences through post-show talkbacks and panels, academic conferences, letters in the Augsburg Echo, and outreach to local community organizations.
Next fall, students will be invited to tackle a Town Hall Nation project by creating short performances around campus that generate civic dialogue on campus about students’ financial needs and crises. Town Hall Nation is a national engagement initiative inviting arts organizations, colleges and universities, and other community groups to create 30-minute events that demonstrate, present, or embody an ideal town hall meeting. Students of any major may audition for or volunteer to participate in the Town Hall Nation project, as with any other Theater Department production.
SARAH MYERS is an assistant professor in Augsburg’s Theater Arts Department.