Beyond the plays and events that you’ve come to enjoy on our stage, Northlight Theatre has a long-standing commitment to dynamic education, engagement, and outreach initiatives, with a variety of programs for students and adults in our community. As conditions related to the COVID-19 pandemic have evolved, our methods have evolved along with them — but our mission has remained constant!
The many programs we’ve continued over the past several months embody Northlight’s commitment to our community. We eagerly await the day we can safely reopen our doors and interact with our patrons, students, and friends in person. Yet, our work at Northlight continues. Our dedicated staff and teaching artists have created innovative solutions to adapt and expand our programs while observing social-distancing needs.
Read on for the highlights of our ongoing programs:
Evanston Scholars is a non-profit organization that improves college access and success for a diverse group of ambitious Evanston students who are traditionally first-generation college entrants, low-income students, and students of color. Northlight’s work with Evanston Scholars centers on helping students express their identity to better inform their college decisions.
This summer’s workshop entitled “Building Community by Getting to Know You” focused on personal vision and identity, connecting how those factors might impact college decisions or help improve their experience. Coming up in September, our next workshop “Self-Awareness to Self-Advocacy” builds on themes from the summer, and will encourage students to think of ways their identities could enable them to declare what they want and need from others, prospective schools, communities, and themselves. With these workshops, we hope students can begin to think of their university experience in a holistic way, and to succeed not only academically, but also mentally and emotionally.
Teaching Artist(s)/Staff: Kaylyn Carter, Sheldon Brown
Intern: McGuire Price
Skokie Public Library
Over a seven week period during the summer, Northlight staff met with the Teen Theatre Group at the Skokie Public Library. Students explored Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night which included virtual watch parties and discussions of filmed theatrical versions of the play. The teens then researched and designed a Glam Rock concept for their own production. With coaching, the students wrote, filmed, and edited a five-minute teaser trailer for the planned production, which will take place in summer 2021.
Teaching Artist(s)/Staff: Christina Lepri
Youth Job Center, Forest Preserve, and Evanston Mayor’s Summer Youth Employment Program
Northlight has a long relationship with Youth Job Center in Evanston, supporting local teens and young adults entering the workforce. Since March, we’ve moved our Work Readiness programming to a virtual space to provide weekly Work Readiness E-Trainings around the subject of Building Positive Workplace Relationships. With a focus on empathy and confidence building, these workshops provide youth with the language and tools they need to succeed in the workplace.
With the help of our collaborators at YJC, this July we expanded our work readiness programs to include workshops with youth from the Forest Preserve and the Evanston Mayor’s Summer Youth Employment Program, each of which included over 100 participants! This programming has been a tremendous success and we hope to deepen our relationships with these three community partners.
Teaching Artist(s): Matt Farabee, Tiffany Fulson, Freddie Ramos, Jazmín Corona, and Kaiser Ahmed
Apprentice: Pricilla Torres
Youth Opportunity United
Y.O.U. is a youth development agency that provides services and leadership to meet the emerging needs of young people and their families. In the past, Northlight has engaged Y.O.U’s youth in a long-term afterschool Speak Up! Residency — our signature theatre for social change program. In order to meet this year’s needs of a more flexible summer schedule, Northlight teaching artists led the students in a series of Improv Masterclasses. These classes were designed to give students a fun and active learning experience. Our programs were offered in tandem with other weekly virtual drop-ins provided by Y.O.U. to support learners that lost their traditional programming.
Teaching Artist(s): Edmund O’Brien
Earlier this Spring Northlight’s storytelling group at the YWCA Evanston/Northshore launched “The Pen Pal Gals,” a collaborative storytelling experience through the mail! Story Packets were mailed with writing materials, prompts, and details on how to join us for a virtual storytelling session. For those who couldn’t join virtually, participants could also opt to mail their written stories back to share with the group.
Teaching Artist(s): Jasmine Jordan
Northlight Youth Council
Every season, Northlight gathers a handful of local high school students to join the Northlight Youth Council (NLYC) as young theatre ambassadors. These students attend Northlight plays, do community service work, and host events for other like-minded students. This Spring, NLYC found new ways to stay engaged. The Youth Council teamed up with the Writers Theatre Youth Council to workshop a Zoom play reading from the newly launched Play at Home project. The students read Alesha Harris’ If, Can, Mayhap out loud and then read and discussed two additional plays: The Librarian by Hansol Jung and Glitter and Bea by Ryan Haddad.
Later spring and summer projects included: a collaborative playwriting project with Playwright Philip Dawkins about the many distractions when trying to make art in a time of social upheaval; an in-depth conversation with Intimate Apparel Director Tasia A. Jones about Lynn Nottage’s American classic; and a virtual watch party of the Neofuturists’ virtual production of The Infinite Wrench with Neofuturist company member (and Northlight teaching artist) Jasmine Jordan.
Northlight Staff Coordinators: Christina Lepri, Alexi Siegel
Northlight had seven active school programs in progress when the pandemic started and more scheduled for the spring. We continued by creating virtual performance possibilities for our students. Keep reading for some of the highlights.
Speak Up! at Dwight D. Eisenhower
Speak Up! is Northlight’s signature theatre for social change program, which uses theatre to bring current events into the classroom. By creating an original performance on issues they face every day, students are able to engage their peers in building positive change in their community. Dwight D. Eisenhower High School in Blue Island, Illinois, was midway through their program this March. We quickly adjusted to continue online, and Eisenhower students became the first “graduates” of a virtual Speak Up! Program. In collaboration with Northlight teaching artists and classroom teachers, students created a series of solo pieces about the pressures facing youth today. Through a medley of original songs, spoken word poems, and one memorable “Tik Tok,” the students created a touching and thoughtful short film that reflects on the challenges they are facing during our current crisis and their hopes for a brighter future.
Here is a sampling of those creations:
“Am I not good enough?
I am not a model
I do not have two rich parents
I am balancing a job, school, sports, and my family
So why am I not good enough to be accepted?
If you ask me what I want to be
A nurse to help others
Because nobody helped me”
– Kay’lyn L.
“My advice is
Keep your eyes on the prize kids
Cause we got this
We are the ones building the future
Don’t let anyone get in your heads
We’re just new to this
I am confident in us that the job will get done.
We got this.”
– Marlon C.
Teaching Artist(s): Jenn Oswald
Apprentice: Emma Leff
Fairview South Elementary School
Northlight has a long relationship with Fairview South Elementary School in Skokie. Led by teaching artist Matt Farabee, students read, rehearse, and act in a short play culminating in a one-night performance for faculty, staff, students, and parents. This year, their play was just one week away from their final performance when the shelter-in-place began! So, they adapted the original show into a radio play recorded via Zoom. That production was then shared with parents, teachers, and students at Fairview to enjoy at home. You can give it a listen here.
Teaching Artist(s):Matt Farabee
Apprentice: Megan Gray
For many years, Northlight has invited students, recent graduates, and early career professionals to join the staff as summer interns. Interns have the opportunity to collaborate with administrators in the areas of Artistic, Education & Community Engagement, Marketing, Advancement, Production, and Management. Each program is tailored to fit the needs of the department with the needs of the young professional. This year, shelter in place orders along with budget and staffing cuts left many theatres with no choice but to cancel their internship programs. Northlight adapted and continued, with six young professionals joining us virtually this past summer. They were invited to all virtual staff meetings, worked alongside departments to fill the needs of the theatre, and joined in on several staff-led professional development workshops.
Northlight Staff Coordinators: Christina Lepri, Emily Kneer
LOOKING FORWARD – FALL AND BEYOND
We are grateful that we are able to continue to serve our community in what is shaping up to be a very busy fall season. Some of our fall program highlights include:
Levy Senior Center Foundation
The Levy Center has been a longtime partner with Northlight and we are thrilled to begin this new project! Northlight is leading a Writing Workshop Pilot Program, which launched via Zoom earlier this month. Each week participants are given story prompts provided by Northlight teaching artists, designed to offer entryways into personal narrative or to explore specific types of literary genre. Folks then write down their stories with pens and notepads generously provided by the Levy Center. Then the seniors are invited to share their stories through a Zoom conference and discuss their experience. At the end of the program, these stories will be collected, printed, and distributed to each person so that they can read the stories by the entire group.
Teaching Artist(s):Kaiser Ahmed & Christina Lepri
Northlight also has an ongoing partnership with the Family Focus Grandparents Group. Typically, a Northlight teaching artist leads these grandparents in a writing and performance workshop about their experience in life and as grandparents, helping these caregivers gain the skills and confidence to share their stories. Each piece is then performed for an invited audience. This fall, we’re doing something a little different. Writing workshops will culminate in the creation of an intergenerational book featuring writing by the Grandparents Group. Northlight and Family Focus are collaborating on a special book release event and possible video with recited excerpts.
Teaching Artist(s): Kaiser Ahmed
That’s not all! There are many projects still in the planning and development phase. More details about our upcoming Education & Community programs:
- The D65 (Evanston/Skokie School District) PTA Council is helping organize enrichment opportunities for students beyond their class schedules. This fall, Northlight will facilitate three programs with students: two sessions of Northlight’s “Build a Play” and one session of “Speak Up!”
- We are continuing our partnership with the King Arts OPTIONS, a diverse learners program with whom we typically run our “Northlight on Campus” program, focusing on acting fundamentals and play adaptation. The curriculum will be adapted to include methods accessible to diverse learners as 60% of the options students are non-verbal.
- We are in the process of finalizing relationships with multiple CPS schools through our connection with Communities in Schools (CIS), in order to set up our Speak Up! theatre for social change program in schools this year.
- For the safety of our students and teaching artists, all of our programs will continue to operate virtually.
- We are meeting with school administrators and teachers and reaching out to our usual partners about what their schools are doing and how we can fit into that model.
- We are in the midst of planning for a Teaching Artist Training that will include anti-racism training, social emotional learning as encouraged by the Illinois State Board of Education, and how to engage students in a virtual setting.
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