The residents at the Illinois Youth Center (IYC) – Warrenville call Storycatchers Theatre’s fall musical the “Big Show” – and for good reason. The production elements are more elaborate than for the other three performances that occur throughout the year at IYC-Warrenville. The actors wear costumes, use props, and perform under traditional stage lighting on a specially-built raised stage for audiences ranging from 50 to 100 people. Additionally, for the past six years, Warrenville youth perform musical numbers with accompaniment from a pit band, consisting of Civic Fellows of the Negaunee Music Institute at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. The sheer number of people who come together to make this show happen, from IYC-Warrenville staff and residents, Storycatchers, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and other organizations, qualify this show as “big.”
Each residential Storycatchers program generates a show that qualifies as “big” because it is the culmination of a year’s worth of writing, story collection, and musical development. At Warrenville, Storycatchers has worked with 25 young people since January, developing their personal stories and incorporating their artistic talents to craft an original one-act musical.
Some of the youth’s sentences at Warrenville last only for a few months, so Storycatchers works with these young people for a relatively brief time. Others have been incarcerated there for years, either because they are serving one long sentence, or because they are caught in a revolving door due to parole violations or – less frequently – commission of new crimes.
When Storycatchers teaching artists have the opportunity to work with a youth for a long period of time, that resident is able to delve into personal history to achieve a clearer understanding of underlying cause and subsequent effect. Those deeply thought-out stories and their connecting themes serve as the backbone of this year’s musical, Dear Sky.
The plot of Dear Sky centers on a major change that occurred at IYC-Warrenville during the past year. Since 1999, Warrenville served young females exclusively as the state’s only secure facility for adolescent girls. In recent months, a successful initiative to find alternatives to incarceration where appropriate resulted in a dramatic reduction of the number of young women at IYC-Warrenville. At the same time, many Illinois Youth Centers for adolescent boys are bursting at the seams. In response, the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice has transitioned IYC-Warrenville to co-ed status.
This year’s musical tells the story of these changes at the Warrenville facility as experienced by the youth in Storycatchers’ program there. And, for the first time since Storycatchers started working with Warrenville residents in 2001, young women and young men will perform on the stage together, working as one ensemble to tell each other’s stories.
Not only does this show unite both genders, but it also unites Warrenville residents and staff. This year, Storycatchers had the unique opportunity to incorporate stories, input, and performances from IYC-Warrenville staff into the process. Their voices and backgrounds help paint a full picture of the IYC-Warrenville culture, representing those who live and work there.
The stories that make up Dear Sky reflect the ensemble’s explorations of the meaning of friendship and love, and how the connections made inside IYC-Warrenville affect residents’ fates after they leave the facility.
To see Dear Sky, please follow this link and select which date you would like to see the performance.