The Next Theatre Company located in the Noyes Cultural Arts Center ( 927 Noyes St.) will present its latest civic theater project, “What You Need to Know,” with three performances in community spaces throughout Evanston this weekend.

Free and open to the public, the short play aims to connect members of Evanston’s diverse community and provide an opportunity for discussion on this year’s topic, education.

The original play was created through Next Theatre’s Next Communities, which uses a unique method of collaboration, pairing community members with a local playwright for an in-depth exploration of the selected topic.

Next Theatre Outreach Director Julie Ganey directs the play, created by Marsha Estell, a resident playwright at Chicago Dramatists.

The play is based on workshops with Evanston residents who represent differing views on the topic of education.

The 16-person ensemble includes Evanston Township High School students, teachers and parents from School Districts 65 and 202, District 65 Board members, members of District 202’s School Improvement Team and local youth advocates.

Beginning in February, the group met for Saturday morning workshops to share their individual views on Evanston’s educational systems’ successes and shortcomings.

The information gathered from the workshops was then used by Ms. Estell to write the play. The participants reconvened in April to rehearse the play that will culminate in the performances this weekend.

“We chose the topic of education this year because it is an issue that has once again come to Evanston’s forefront,” says Ms. Ganey. “For years ETHS has worked to raise the performance of all students and close the minority achievement gap, with minimal results.

“The big question continues to be, ‘What is the best way to educate a very diverse community, not just culturally and ethnically, but socio-economically as well?'”

Past topics have included race and identity, and development and gentrification.

The 40-minute play will be followed by a discussion engaging the audience in further examination of the questions raised in the performance. The goal is to “foster dialogue within the community,” says Ms. Ganey.

“We try to get as many different opinions on stage as possible,” continues Ms. Ganey. “My hope is that the play inspires thought and reflection, but mostly that it creates an understanding of why people who feel differently about an issue might feel that way.”

Performance Schedule

April 30 at 7 p.m., BooCoo Cultural Center and Café. 1823 Church St.

May 1 at 7 p.m., Evanston Township High School, 1600 Dodge Ave.

May 2 at 2 p.m., Next Theatre Company, Noyes Cultural Arts Center, 927 Noyes St.

For reservations call 847-475-1875 ext 2. Admission is free.