The Changing Voices Ensemble (CVE) hit the road over the summer with STRUGGLING IN THESE STREETS, an original one-act musical written by CVE members in 2014 and revised by a core group of playwrights before the program resumed in March. Returning CVE members Greg Holmes and Tyteanna Williams served as peer leaders for newly released youth that joined the 2015 ensemble in the spring. The summer tour included 15 locations and 36 performances for more than 900 individuals.

Each Changing Voices performance concluded with an interactive post-show discussion. Through these conversations, audience members could identify critical turning points in the play and discuss how those moments affect and shape the characters. After selecting a particular scene for further exploration, an Ensemble member and an audience volunteer played out a character’s choices in a way that lead to a different outcome than the one seen during the performance. “The improvisational role-plays bring the audience directly into the decision-making process of the characters,” explains Storycatchers Artistic Director Meade Palidofsky.

“Furthermore,” says Palidofsky, “the primary point of the role-playing is not to categorize some choices as ‘good’ and others as ‘bad,’ but rather to engage the audience to consider the characters’ different emotional states of being and the long-term impact of decisions driven by those emotional states. By examining the consequences of their actions, youth can identify how one set of actions may make them feel sad, anxious or lonesome; while another set of choices result in feelings of contentment, happiness or certainty. When a young person can directly experience making a choice that changes an outcome, they learn a more readily useful set of skills than simply identifying an action as ‘good’ or ‘bad’.”

In addition to the performance tour, each Changing Voices member wrote at least one personal story for development. These stories will provide the basis for the next CVE musical. The Ensemble presented a staged reading of the work-in-progress on Monday, October 26, 2015 in the training room at 100 N Western Ave.

During the summer and fall of 2015, CVE welcomed Sarah Wagener, another Schweitzer Fellow, to Storycatchers’ ranks. While pursuing a master’s degree in public health at the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health, Wagener was been awarded an Albert Schweitzer Fellowship specifically to work with the Changing Voices Ensemble. Albert Schweitzer, the namesake of the Schweitzer Fellowship, received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1952. This year, 30 Fellows are working in Chicago to address health needs of Chicagoans.

Wagener brought a public health perspective to aid the Ensemble in crafting their stories. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Drama from Washington University in St. Louis and has experience in directing, playwriting, and long-form improvisational comedy. Her acting skills came in handy as she understudied a variety of roles over the summer. “It has been a privilege to help the inspiring Changing Voices Ensemble members shape their stories for the stage,” she remarked.

Changing Voices is made possible with support from the Reva and David Logan Foundation, Leo S. Guthman Foundation, and Cook County Justice Advisory Council; and other funders who prefer to remain anonymous.