Ensemble Blog #6 – Teach’em & Watch’em (Knoxville)

Ensemble Blog #6 – Teach’em & Watch’em (Knoxville)

For each tour city where Progress Theatre travels to perform, one of our ensemble members uses this blog to reflect on new insights, discoveries, questions and conversations we encounter as we engage with audiences and communities across the country. We share this “Ensemble Blog” as another way of following the tour, continuing the post-show dialogues often started with our audiences, and mapping our journeys “in progress”–literally and figuratively.

“Teach’em & Watch’em”

In The Burnin’ we meet two 1940s characters Topper Jr. and May Bee who dream of a better future by dreaming of their children. They sing triumphantly as they decide to migrate away from their home in Antebellum that they will “Teach our babies what we know, and then we watch’em grow!” Watch them grow like seeds lovingly planted, nurtured and cultivated to reach their greatest bloom. Progress Theatre’s August residency in Knoxville, TN with Carpetbag Theatre was a huge call for me to focus on the youth—our seeds—their development in this world, and my place within that development as an artist, activist and arts educator. PT begins each day in residence by sharing our intentions for our work within every space where we tour. We call these our daily “check-ins” and “check-outs.” By the end of each day in Knoxville, I found myself already reaching into the next day with the intention to engage and represent the youth as much as I could. Knoxville is full of sparks of hope. Thank you, Knoxville! I was inspired by the many beautiful people we met who completely shared with honesty when invited to dialogue throughout our residency activities.

The work I anticipated most, other than performing the show, were the workshops with Austin East High School and with community youth through Carpetbag Theatre. At Austin East, it was rewarding to be informed by both students and educators of what their needs were. The students openly shared their need for art that represents them, their experiences, and the spaces that they are from. The educators cared enough for the education of their students, and its effectiveness with the youth that they were teaching, to be vulnerable enough to acknowledge what they needed as well. One educator very plainly shared with us, “…as much as I have, as much as I can teach, I do not have all that they need.” What better aesthetic and tool for youth involvement, than to hold space where the youth are creatively engaged with community partners to help fill the gaps of both student and educator needs desiring to be met? The PT workshop with Austin East set the space for every youth present to have a creative contribution in sharing stories that represented them and for the educators to support them in that making that space. Carpetbag Theatre further built on the space created in the workshop by offering free tickets to all of students to The Burnin’. To our delight, both students and educators accepted that invitation and came to continue the dialogue and journey over the course of PT’s residency. Thank you, Carpetbag Theatre!

The children are, truly, the sparks and seeds of our future. The impact of working with the young people at Austin East and Carpetbag Theatre deeply impacted the ensemble. In one of our ensemble check-outs, we shared the differences in our world beliefs as children, and what they are now. There was a general sense that, “When I was a child, I believed that I could leave the big things to be taken care of by the adults or other forces that I could not see, but trusted were there, and everything would be fine.” Then comes the awareness, as an adult, that the world is not run by a hidden autonomous system that makes sure everything is alright while we experience “freedom.” It is a world full of entire governing systems that teach and give superiority to a select few, and inferiority to many.

As a mature, adept, artist-activist, I realize simply and plainly that the world is run by people. A world governed largely by many who lack empathy to feel compassion and understanding around the ways we effect each other. These thoughts stayed with me as I experienced an illuminating sense of hope from each young person we met that would send me toward a loving optimism for the world to come, and simultaneously toward a realization of how finite present society can make possibilities for the youth. I found myself reflecting on the realization that children today who are born into community war zones, domestic and societal abuses, injustice, miseducation, and more, are still expected to emerge as whole and successful as those who do not. Then, they are judged for their struggles or for having limited access to hope. But, it is the adults who should carry this weight.

When we are in the contemporary locale of Sittay in The Burnin’, we hear the character Crush speak, “You either learn how to run or how to fight. And, guess what? Ain’t nowhere to run! You born in the Sittay. You come up in the Sittay. You die in the Sittay. It’s only a matter of time.” This is unacceptable to me. It should be unacceptable to all of us as this community-country-world is our shared space. Dr. Cristal Chanelle Truscott often to says, “Education is activism on the front lines.” In Knoxville, I was reminded of a personal call to better serve our seeds. What are our seeds being taught with presidential campaigns rooted in hatred and falsehood? What do we think our seeds are being taught by showing them, publicly and massively, that their deaths and murders are okay? When I look at all of our avenues of teaching and all of the ways our seeds are calling for an increase in the quality of how we cultivate them, there is no choice but to respond to the call.

Let us all heed the call to increase our empathy, communication, education, and love in our activism and our youth. In the words of The Burnin’s Topper Jr. & May Bee, let us “teach our babies what we know, and then we watch ‘em grow!”

Read Derrick’s Bio here.

⇐⇐ Read Ensemble Blog #5: “Headlines and Baselines” by Daniel

Read Ensemble Blog #7: “The Challenge” by Rebekah ⇒⇒

Progress Theatre

September 13th, 2016

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