My Soul to Take Case Study: Flint Youth Theatre, Flint, MI

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Sue Wood
Animating Democracy resource
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When Flint Youth Theatre began planning for a new play addressing the local and national problem of school violence, it had no idea that, in the process of developing the project, its own community would experience a devastating elementary school shooting. A year after the tragedy, the play ...My Soul to Take, written by artistic director and playwright William Ward, became a focal point for fresh attention on this persistent and painful issue. The play, stylistically atypical of most youth theater in its nonlinear, collage style and its treatment of the subject, captured a swirl of opinions surrounding the shooting. The play’s central metaphor, the Pied Piper, and the question “Can’t somebody do something?” (implored by children throughout the play), became a call to reinvigorate community dialogue and move toward action on this pressing issue. Over several months, …My Soul to Take served as the backdrop for a diverse set of dialogue opportunities organized by Flint Youth Theatre and collaborating organizations concerned with education, neighborhood crime prevention, and community issues. These dialogue opportunities aimed to coalesce fragmented efforts to address school violence. More than 100 community members met in small study circle groups over several weeks to consider causes and effects of school violence, and options for action. Young people explored dimensions of the issue through participation in process drama workshops, facilitated by artist Gillian Eaton, and through curriculum-based efforts related to their experience of the play. Dialogue was also integral to the process of creating the play; the script was inspired by the words and views of actual participants in the process drama workshops. With local partners and educators, dialogue was planned and facilitated in conjunction with the play. …My Soul to Take contributed to the following outcomes.  Participants in Flint Youth Theatre’s study circles dialogues came to a new understanding of the causes and effects of youth violence and defined actions they could take individually and collectively to stem school violence. Many of these actions were implemented. The project also coalesced the previously fragmented efforts of community organizations that worked in partnership with the theater. Outcomes:  awareness, understanding, behavior, skill/practice, artistic For more on this topic, visit the Social Impact Outcomes and Indicators section. Evaluation sought to understand: if and how arts-based dialogue might refocus public attention on the issue of youth violence if greater understanding of causes and effects of youth violence was achieved what actions were stimulated to prevent youth violence from happening characteristics of an effective partnership approach to the issue as a way to improve previously fragmented individual efforts the effectiveness of FYT’s imagistic aesthetic style in stimulating meaningful issue-based dialogue Approach to evaluation: FYT worked closely from start to finish with an evaluation coach made available through Animating Democracy. Evaluation activities were largely self-implemented. A logic model was created for planning and evaluating the project. It became a constant and very useful reference point for shaping the project, helping FYT to focus and limit the project’s many possible programmatic directions. It also helped FYT to consider critical context (or conditions) such as the fragmented efforts by agencies in the community and statewide gun legislation and to identify civic objectives it was best positioned to effect, i.e. to pursue coalescing local agencies Data collection methods and tools from FYT: Audience survey questionnaire to gauge effects of the play and dialogues on awareness and understanding of the issue Focus groups with Study Circles facilitators Focus group with project Steering Committee Interviews with FYT artistic director, artists, and staff   Other resources: Theatre as Civic Dialogue, by Joan Lazarus This article appreared in 2001 in TYA Today, a publication of Theatre for Young Audiences/USA. Lazarus is Associate Professor of Theatre at the University of Texas at Austin where she heads the Drama and Theatre for Youth Programs. It was intended as a critical analysis by an outside theater educator primarily to understand the effectiveness of FYT’s aesthetic style in stimulating meaningful issue-based dialogue, but also to describe and document the project to contribute to discourse in the field of theater for young people about these institutions’ civic role and potential.  

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