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Students Learn the Power of Activist Theatre

Written by Sabina Leybold

Students portray the struggle with mental illness on college campuses. Photo by Adam Baker

Three weeks. That’s all the time the students in the first-year seminar class U.S. Social Activist Theatre and Performance: History and Praxis had to create a theatrical production from start to finish.

They first studied the concept and history of activist theatre. Next they interviewed students on campus and then used those interviews to create a script.

“I would be lying if I said [the process] wasn’t rocky,” Jillian Berkowitz ’19 said. “But when people are as passionate as my peers in this class, the ideas bouncing back and forth are brilliant.”

The finished production, Student Vs., portrayed Ithaca College students’ struggles with ignorance and insensitivity surrounding race, mental health, and power dynamics on campus.

Activist theatre isn’t like conventional main-stage productions. It challenges social norms and encourages discussion, often promoting awareness of injustice.

“It’s a reflection of the controversial parts of society we often avoid discussing,” Joe Cruz ’19 said.

With a direct, concise script and minimal use of props and costumes, the production utilized simplicity to convey complexity.  “The concepts were huge, and at times complicated, so the blocking needed to be simple,” Berkowitz said. “No huge movements, nothing too subtle. The subtleties could be missed.”

Instead, the students focused on powerful language, including elements of slam poetry. “The power of our words was all the spectacle we needed,” Cruz said.



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