Bloomington theatre collective confronts racial injustice

By 

Students perform as part of the Bloomington City Wide Youth Theatre Collective

As the nation continues to grapple with righting the wrongs from racial injustice, a new community theatre project hopes to provide a space for youth voices to address these issues.

Gus Weltsek, Assistant Professor in Arts Education, is working on the project, called the Bloomington City Wide Youth Theatre Collective. The goal of the project is to create a new musical based upon young people’s voices. Through a series of arts-based workshops that include puppetry, masks, improvisation, Theatre of the Oppressed, hip hop dance and poetry, the youth are working in collaboration with each other and professional artists to identify ideas and experiences that to them signify issues of racism in Bloomington. The project is an extension of work that Weltsek and Marcus Simmons, faculty member at Bethel University, have been engaged in for several years: using the arts to create meaningful socio-cultural and political spaces for critical self and community reflection and action.

“We are interested in the ways youth utilize theatre conventions to create a new play as an observable means of displaying critical embodied agency,” Weltsek added.

With a mix of teenagers from Bloomington and a central creative team, workshop presenters and technical staff, Weltsek says the team is taking a community-based participatory research approach: “This study will contribute extensively to the means the fields of education and social sciences use to examine the multiplicity of ways youths’ use diverse sign systems and embodied interactions as ways to make meaning and take action within a complex and turbulent world.”

Young people need space to talk and think deeply about important issues ... This space is often neglected due to the demands of standardized testing. Our work is solely focused on providing a space and a platform for youth voices.

Gus Weltsek

As COVID-19 restrictions are still in place, the entire project is being completed via Zoom, much like other theatre projects Weltsek is involved in. With these new challenges, Weltsek also sees an unprecedented opportunity to design a rigorous research model to capture and analyze the socio-culture intricacies of the creative theatrical process, as everything can be recorded.

“This platform also expands our ability to engage the youth in a more human and theatrically authentic experience by virtue of the visual and creative enhancements provided through our augmentations of drama works,” they said. “Likewise, performing in an all-virtual format brings attention to large participant socio-economic gaps.”

The project, which is receiving funding through the IU Racial Justice Research Fund, is an important one as youth are seeing and experiencing racism and other weaponized bias daily without ways to process it safely or collectively.

“Young people need space to talk and think deeply about important issues particularly as this is the world in which they live and the one of whose care they will be charged,” Weltsek said. “This space is often neglected due to the demands of standardized testing. Our work is solely focused on providing a space and a platform for youth voices.”

Start your life-changing journey

Schedule a visit   Request information