Northwestern University is launching a unique community-based theater arts partnership with Evanston/Skokie School District 65 and Imagine U, the nationally recognized producer of theater for young audiences at The Virginia Wadsworth Wirtz Center for the Performing Arts. The partnership, Learn and Imagine Together Through Theater (LITTT), will begin in the 2022-2023 academic year.
LITTT is a co-created community partnership developed by Northwestern and District 65, which is coordinated through the university’s Office of Neighborhood and Community Relations. It is the university’s newest social impact partnership. Dave Davis, Executive Director of Neighborhood and Community Relations at Northwestern, said the program is designed to make live theater more accessible to hundreds of young people.
“The creative power of the arts crosses all cultural barriers, reminding us of our shared human heritage,” Davis said. “Co-created community partnerships such as LITTT can serve as a catalyst for advancing racial equity by exposing young people to artists who look like them and providing them an opportunity to see themselves in a way they never imagined.”
Lynn Kelso, founder of Imagine U and Assistant Professor of Instruction in Northwestern’s Theatre Department, agrees that theater can be a powerful experience for young audiences. Kelso said Northwestern students will also benefit from the LITTT partnership.
“The partnership provides our students with the opportunity to step into the role of teaching artists while being mentored by outstanding District 65 teachers,” said Kelso. As the partnership develops, “it also presents an incredible opportunity to conduct groundbreaking research on the impact of the arts.”
How LITTT works
In the fall of 2022, the Wirtz Center will create weekday matinee performances of an Imagine U production just for District 65 students. Third-grade students, approximately 800 students from across the district, will take a field trip to Northwestern’s Evanston campus to see the Imagine U performance. For many students, this will be their first time experiencing live theater – and possibly their first exposure to a college campus. While on campus, students will meet the cast and production team and have lunch.
The Wirtz Center is creating four Imagine U matinee performances that District 65 students will see over two Fridays. This would recur annually so all District 65 students would get to visit Northwestern and experience an Imagine U production once during their elementary school experience, creating enhanced learning opportunities and access to live theater.
“It is a wonderful opportunity for our students to have a shared experience viewing an Imagine U show,” said Stacy Beardsley, Executive Director of Curriculum and Instruction with District 65. “The shared experience allows for students to not only experience powerful stories together, but it also allows our students to learn about the story and the work that goes into a theater performance at a deeper level.”
Connecting theater curriculums
Prior to coming to campus, District 65 students participate in a classroom activity that is designed to introduce the production and engage students with complex themes they’ll witness in the play. Students will also watch a virtual backstage tour of the Wirtz Center to see how elements of the production were created.
Learning continues after the play when the students return to their school drama classroom. School drama teachers will lead students in one or two lesson plans that revolve around the production to deepen their experience of seeing live theater. These drama lessons will help immerse students in the world of the play through dramatic skills such as pantomime, story dramatization, in-role encounters, scene work, storytelling, guided imagery and other embodied creative activities.
Betsy Quinn, Drama Department Chair for District 65, said the live theater experience allows students in the district to connect with diverse characters and settings.
“This unique partnership with Imagine U brings District 65 students and teachers together as a community to experience powerful storytelling and artistry live and up close,” said Quinn. “Attending theater productions and engaging in drama classes develops empathy in young children by allowing them to walk in the shoes of others and see the world through their eyes.”
Source: Northwestern University