Living Newspaper Summer Youth Performance Troupe Performs at Texas State History Museum
T: When did you first arrive?
K: What motivated your family to move?
T: Why are you even here?
K: How did you get here?
T: Do you have your papers?
K: Are you really an American?
T: Are you a terrorist?!
K: I’m American!
T: NO you’re not!!
K: Yes I am… I’ve been here all my life!!
T: You look Mexican!!
K: This used to be Mexico.
T: It’s America NOW!
K: Well, what do I need to do be an American?
T: To be an American you…have to be… well… you know… white.
K: Oh, that makes a lot of sense! I guess you’re not American either.
T: Yes I am. I was born here.
K: What about your family?
T: What about YOUR family?
T and K to Audience: What about YOUR families?
Thus begins the performance of the Humanities Institute’s Living Newspaper Summer Youth Performance Troupe, a group of 16 Austin-area middle and high school students. Troupe members spent five weeks researching, writing, rehearsing and, on August 6–8, performing theatre pieces inspired by the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum’s exhibit, Forgotten Gateway: Coming to the U.S. through Galveston Island. Funded by a grant by the Webber Family Foundation, and supported by partnering institutions including The Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum, Theatre Action Project, and UT’s Performance as Public Practice Program, the Summer Troupe is an expansion of the academic year Living Newspapers Across the Disciplines Program, which has been a signature Humanities Institute initiative for the past three years.
Over the course of the summer, troupe members were treated to a personal tour through the exhibit by its curator, Dr. Suzanne Seriff, and were introduced to the Benson Library’s collection on immigration-related materials by Benson staff Margo Gutierrez and Adrian Johnson. Additionally, troupe members learned script writing and voice and movement techniques through master classes with Nigel O’Hern and Julia Smith, and were provided with a historical overview of human rights by the Rapoport Center’s Jeremy Dean.
One thing I learned during the Living Newspaper was that together, we can make a change in someone’s perspective. We can inform people about issues that are happening nowadays, so they can reflect upon it and do an effort to make the problem better. What I also learned is that people’s opinions and backgrounds influence things like plays in a very interesting way.
— Blanca Landin
Summer Troupe staff members Rebecca Hewett, from the Performance as Public Practice Program, and Natalie Goodnow, from Theatre Action Project, as well as the Humanities Institute’s Tessa Farmer and Gretchen Abbott, instructed the students daily as they delved into America’s immigration history and crafted the scripts for their performances. Along the way, the students encountered difficult questions about race, xenophobia, and the process of creating a historical narrative. One student said, "Diversity is something I haven’t really experienced all that much, and I found it here, racially, intellectually, and culturally." Troupe members were selected from a pool of 43 applicants, and were paid for their labor in the spirit of the original federal Works Progress Administration’s (WPA’s) Living Newspapers program, which provided opportunities for actors, directors, and theatre technicians during the Great Depression.
After successfully developing the summer and academic year Living Newspapers, the Humanities Institute is now turning over its stewardship of the program to the Performance as Public Practice Program in UT’s Department of Theatre and Dance. The Humanities Institute continues to be an active partner in this exciting endeavor.