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Sunday July 23rd 2017

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“All the world is a stage”: In the Heart of the Beast Theatre uses mask and puppetry to interpret and teach history

The Phillips History Museum Display high-up in the Midtown Exchange Historic Building recently had many exciting displays from the HOBT Phillips History by Community Youth.  The top photo here is a poster board illustrating the history of Little Earth of United Tribes housing and community center.  The lower photo is a large collage of many Alley Newspaper pages.  Sandy Spieler, HOBT Artistic Director, and Lead Artist Gustavo Boada explained  that when this design is viewed from a distance it gives an impressive impact of the power of the press and how it provides insightful reading when up-close about specific events and activities throughout Phillips over the last 38 years in the Phillips Community and surrounding neighborhoods, too.

By Harvey Winje

For the 40th year, Cedar Field, East 25th Street, Bloomington Avenue, East 34th Street, and Powderhorn Lake and Park become “the stage” as Heart of the Beast Theatre  (HOBT) organizes, orchestrates, choreographs and teaches the dynamic artistry of theatre and the ancient drama of masks and puppets.  Shakespeare’s words, “All the world’s a stage” via the  comedy, “As You Like It” come to mind but, perhaps, too obvious  of a description.

During the months between MayDay Parades and Festivals,  In the Heart of the Beast Theatre Company is not content to bring the drama and the comedy only to their inside stage at the Avalon Theatre, 1500 East Lake Street.  They continue mentoring and bringing forth the natural talents of their audiences, who often are the actors of the next play, parade or pageant.  HOBT becomes a traveling troupe that goes to towns, schools, community centers, and “town squares”- illustrating to groups the art of mask-making, drawing, assembling, shaping, telling, and enacting their stories.  Sometimes, it is for one afternoon and sometimes it is several days over a few months.  One such extended experience was with existing groups in the same community in which HOBT’s own Theatre is located, the Phillips Community.

The HOBT Phillips Project: unraveling and interpreting history around us

Modified version from www.HOBT.org

This community-based residency offered a highly effective approach to engaging neighborhood youth by centering long-term program activities at partner sites. HOBT worked with established groups of youth who were participating in partner programming, eliminating recruitment challenges and transportation barriers. By providing art activities free of charge, this residency also removed financial barriers to participation in the arts. The residency served youth in HOBT’s home neighborhood, reaching a highly diverse population of children through partnerships with Waite House, Little Earth and Project for Collaborative Village.

Objectives of this project were to:

  • Deliver high quality arts programming designed and taught by professional artist to youth at Phillips Community sites that do not have such programming.
  • Foster creative expression and extend arts learning opportunities through hands-on puppet and mask arts activities.
  • Strengthen long-term neighborhood partnerships with community organizations using puppetry and arts education with youth and families.
  • Create opportunities for dialogue among youth, fostering communication and an appreciation for their diverse backgrounds and perspectives.
  • Celebrate the creative accomplishments of participating youth through a culminating performance event.

Youth at the sites participated in parallel themes through site-specific art projects that focused on the expression of cultural identities and creation of dialogue with the people and places in the Phillips Community. The artists conducted workshop sessions for three hours per week during a 24-week period. During this period, youth studied the history of the neighborhood’s physical and social landscape and the people who have lived there. This work was led by local historians, naturalists, community members and teaching artists.

Youth participants also observed and collected stories from the present day communities, families and individuals living in Phillips. They used the stories to explore the cultural and physical landscape, history, and sense of place in their neighborhood. They expressed the history of the place through the mediums of hand puppetry, photography, video, shadow puppetry, masks, music and spoken word poetry.

All sites shared the artistic processes and products of their projects through inter-site field trips and a culminating public event called the Phillips Community Youth Story Swap and History Museum held recently in the 14th   Floor Tower Party Room of the Midtown Exchange [the old Sears Tower].   Being up high in a historic neighborhood landmark  was a perfect location for a literal and figurative overview of the Community’s history heard and seen through the eyes of Phillips Community youth.

Several interactive, in depth displays related the stories of history they learned; “Trail of Broken Treaties,” “Little Earth of United Tribes,” “Transportation” (which included a mock-up 6 passenger streetcar), Storytelling and History through Journalism, and the politics and activism of a Community Center.

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