Theatre Emphasizes Social Justice

Posted on September 1st, 2009 by

Students rehearse 'Maggie's Magical Cat and Other Catastrophes,' an original composition written by Amy Seham and Gustavus senior Maggie Sotos. (Photo by Jake Seamans)

Students rehearse 'Maggie's Magical Cat and Other Catastrophes,' an original composition written by Amy Seham and Gustavus senior Maggie Sotos. (Photo by Jake Seamans)


By Jake Seamans ’10

Gustavus’s Department of Theatre and Dance is embracing a new mission—to educate students with a strong focus on social justice. As part of the department’s effort to create the top social justice theatre program in the country, starting Fall Semester 2008 students majoring in theatre will be required to take a social justice theatre course and will be encouraged to take part in other social justice activities.

The program aims to take advantage of the unique position theatre has in demonstrating the need for social justice. “Theatre is immediate, live, powerful, and engaging,” said theatre department chair and associate professor Amy Seham. “To me, it really connects with (Gustavus’s core values) justice and service.”

“Our Anderson scholarships that are offered every year and can be fulfilled through acting, directing, or design can now be fulfilled through social justice theatre, which is a different category,” said Seham.

The new focus, builds upon existing Gustavus programs, but intentionally allows students to become more involved in social justice. A past desire for social justice in the medium led to the creation of the social justice I Am…We Are Theatre Company, a student group created to implement social justice techniques through theatre. The troupe performs a number of times throughout the year, including during the popular “E Pluribus Gustavus” during First-Year Student Orientation.

“It’s a pretty big shift,” said Seham, “but we hope this will lead us toward an identity that shows someone interested in Social Justice Theatre that Gustavus is the place to go in the Midwest.”

A small example of Gustavus-created social justice theatre will be staged at 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 14, 2008 in Anderson Theatre. This free public performance of “Maggie’s Magical Cat & Other Catastrophes” was showcased at this summer’s Minnesota Fringe Festival. Writer/Director Seham and a group of Gustavus students, along with one St. Peter student, performed the original composition written by Seham and Gustavus senior Maggie Sotos. The 60-minute play focuses on elementary school politics and the painful, often comical life of a grade-schooler.

This summer’s five performances were Thursday, July 31, Saturday, Aug.
2, Sunday, Aug. 3, Saturday, Aug. 9, and Sunday, Aug. 10 at the University of Minnesota’s Rarig Center Xperimental.

This Gustavus production was a children’s theatre piece done in collaboration with St. Peter Area Children’s Theatre (SPACT). To create the script, Seham and budding student playwright Sotos received a summer Gustavus Presidential Faculty/Student Collaboration Grant.

 

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