The Milwaukee Repertory Theaterhas engaged middle- and high school-age students at 15 area schools and community organizations in a program called “Our Neighborhoods: Past Present and Future.” The 25-week, 50-hour program was inspired by the Rep’s productions of “Raisin In The Sun” and “Clybourne Park.”
Taking a cue from the plays’ theme of neighborhood diversity, the students are studying the history of the area in which they live and go to school with the hope of positively influencing the future of their neighborhood.
“We wanted to give the students a sense of empowerment that they can actually make a difference in their communities,” said Jenny Kostreva, the Rep’s education director.
“We tell (them) the story about the fair housing marches that happened in the ’60s and that (were) led by the NAACP youth council and they were all these kids’ age. And that was an enlightening fact for them to realize, ‘Oh, actually, maybe I can make a difference.’”
Working closely with the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s theater department and Milwaukee Public Schools, the Rep project places teaching artists in 14 MPS schools, including North Division High School, 1011 W. Center St., where students learn photography and playwriting as well as the power of spoken word. The students are using these skills to interview people who live in their neighborhoods for raw material they will craft into poetry and theatrical pieces.
North Division students saw the Rep’s productions of “Clybourne Park,” by Bruce Norris, and “Raisin in the Sun, by Lorraine Hansberry, as part of the Our Neighborhoods program. They studied “Raisin in the Sun” in depth, reading and discussing the play in school.
“I wish I would have had this program at my school when I was growing up,” said Lindsey Schmeltzer, the Rep’s teaching specialist at North Division. Schmeltzer added that she feels honored to introduce the students to her life’s passion, live theater.
“It’s their first experience so they don’t know really what to expect,” she said. “Most of them, at least my classes, have come out raving about it: what a unique experience (it is) and how much they’ll remember their first theater experience.”
Troy Freund, a local professional photographer who teaches the students camera skills, said that his life’s work is more than creating pictures. “You can do a lot with photography. You can learn about the world, you can learn about yourself.
“A lot of people need a little more introspection,” Freund added. “Photography can serve that really well.”
North Division students learned to create stories and poetry from their own lives in a Milwaukee Repertory program this spring.
Community Night at North Division High School revealed students’ perceptions of their neighborhood through spoken word poetry.