A dynamic partnership with Steppenwolf Theatre is underway, as Storycatchers Teaching Artists and the Changing Voices Ensemble prepare for the March 2017 tour of the Steppenwolf for Young Adults (SYA) production of Monster. The play, directed by Hallie Gordon and adapted by Aaron Carter from Walter Dean Myer’s best-selling young adult novel, will tour to IYC-Warrenville, IYC-Chicago, and the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center, offering a total of eight performances within the three residential facilities.
Teaching Artists from Storycatchers and Steppenwolf will collaborate to offer pre-performance workshops for every group who attends the play. Youth residents of the facilities who participate in Storycatchers’ Word Warriors, Firewriters, and Temporary LockDown Ensembles will be lead participants in the workshops, with their Storycatchers writing and performing experience making them natural trailblazers for their peers.
Megan Shuchman, Director of Education at Steppenwolf, explains, “One of the highlights of this partnership so far has been the experience of bringing together our two disparate groups of teaching artists to train and exchange ideas with one another. Over the MLK weekend, our teaching artists were in deep exploration of the ideas and themes of Monster. Storycatchers teaching artists not only joined us as generous guests in our space – game to try anything we threw at them – but they also introduced us to their own way of working with ideas and activities new to us. In the field of teaching artistry, it is extremely rare that one gets the opportunity to take the time for this sort of exchange and professional development.”
Monster tells the story of a 16-year-old aspiring filmmaker detained in a juvenile detention center while he awaits trial for felony murder. This content was Steppenwolf’s inspiration to initiate the partnership with Storycatchers. Schuchman and her colleague, Hallie Gordon (SYA Artistic and Educational Director, as well as director of Monster), both felt it would be important to bring the production to youth who are currently awaiting trial or incarcerated. This represents new territory for SYA, which has not previously toured their productions to youth residential facilities.
Monster evokes important questions about identity: the prosecutor describes the main character, Steve Harmon, as a “monster.” Much of Steve’s journey in both the novel and the play is his exploration of the difference between how he sees himself and how others view him. This year’s Storycatchers staged readings and productions also center on questions of identity. The youth are exploring how they perceive themselves, how others’ perceptions of them affect their experiences, and what factors shape their actual identities. Both the touring production of Monster and the shows that Storycatchers participants create are asking young people to grapple with questions about how their perception of their identity fuels the choices they make. The dramatic story of a young person on trial facing 20 years to life is a reality for many of Storycatchers’ participants. Experiencing the SYA play and engaging in workshops around the production offers another way for our youth to explore questions about their choices, both those they have made in the past and those they will make in the future.
WHEN I LOSE MY FREEDOM
THEY TATTOO MONSTER ON MY HEAD
I BELIEVE IT TO BE TRUE
LOOK IN THE MIRROR WITH DREAD
WHEN THE PEOPLE SEE ME
ALL THEY EVER DO IS SHOUT
THREATENING ME WITH HARM:
“DON’T GO NEAR THAT GIRL, WATCH OUT!”
(Lyrics from a song inspired by Monster written by a girl from IYC-Warrenville as part of this project.)
Over the past several months, Storycatchers Artists participated in Steppenwolf’s Aesthetic Education program for teachers and partners, developing exciting activities around the SYA season line of inquiry, “When we stick to our guns, who pays the price?” This theme began with SYA’s production of The Burials, a contemporary re-imagining of Antigone, centering on a traumatic and all-too-familiar event: a school shooting. The Changing Voices and Firewriters ensembles participated in SYA workshops and attended a performance of The Burials. Changing Voices also participated in a training workshop for Monster and attended the first reading of the full script by the Steppenwolf cast.
Angelina, a Changing Voices participant, explained her reaction to the book and script. “It relates to my life in such a strong way because I was accused of something I didn’t do, and my young mind, like Steve Harmon’s, went through so much just to understand everything that was going on around me.”
Ty’teanna, another CV participant, shared her reaction to the collaboration: “I enjoyed how we got to learn more about theatre activities, and how we were able to help the teaching artists create activities and curriculum.”
The tour of Monster performances and workshops to juvenile justice facilities where Storycatchers conducts programs will take place March 13-18. The last performance on tour will be open to the community and parents of the Temporary LockDown Ensemble.
Monster on Tour
March 18th, 2017 – 5:30pm
1100 South Hamilton Avenue
Chicago, IL 60612