Goodman Theatre School Matinee Series Coordinator Sam Mauceri reflects on their work as co-facilitator of Strike!: The Youth Political Theater Project.

By Sam Mauceri

When I was a younger artist and younger citizen of this world, I wanted nothing more than to be taken seriously—for those around me to know that I cared deeply about issues of oppression and inequality, and that I understood how they affected me and my peers personally. In co-facilitating the youth summer program Strike!: The Youth Political Theater Project, I was overwhelmed with gratitude to work alongside bright young people with that same desire.

In our (incredibly short) four weeks together, my incomparable co-facilitator Quenna L. Barrett and I sought to provide the ensemble of Strike! with essential social and political history, key information on knowing your rights, and exemplary performances of political theatre styles. Quenna, who I personally hold as a beacon for facilitation and political theatre-making, guided students through exploring the theory and practice of Theatre of the Oppressed, a participatory theatre style established by Brazilian artist and activist Augusto Boal.

Alongside the heavier aspects of the work, we found delightful moments of lightness, silliness, and camaraderie in the space we held together. We managed to tackle acting and improvisation exercises, several community building activities reworked for Zoom and some speedy group research projects, digging into various political theatre styles. Somehow, amidst all of that, the ensemble of Strike! managed to create, develop and rehearse two original political theatre pieces which they performed live on Goodman Theatre’s YouTube channel. I’m still blown away by all they accomplished!

One of the pieces they performed, Fast Times at Grandview High, features several high school students navigating conversations around sex, peer pressure and rape culture. The concepts explored were based on conversations and ideas that the young creators of the piece had researched or encountered in their own lives. While the content of the play explored important social issues close to the hearts of the ensemble, Quenna and I were intent on challenging our students to go beyond simply telling stories with political themes. An essential part of political theatre is action and our students were ready to meet the challenge by engaging the audience directly in social action as part of the theatrical experience. 

Boal describes Theatre of the Oppressed as a “rehearsal theater,” which grants its audience an opportunity to practice finding solutions for real life scenarios and conflicts. In the performance of Fast Times at Grandview High, audience members were given the opportunity to practice or rewrite key conversations from the piece through typed comments and by joining us “on stage” during the livestream. Dozens of audience members flooded the comments to rewrite interactions from the play in their own words: first, in challenging a misogynistic classmate, and then in supporting a friend who shared their experience of sexual violence. You can watch the second moment of “rehearsal theater” below.

As I facilitated these conversations between our young performers and audience members, I was moved by the sheer number of insightful comments our audience generated. I feel confident that by engaging with this “rehearsal theater,” audience members feel more prepared to take the statements they wrote, and those shared by others, and implement them in their own lives. They are more prepared to recommit themselves to values of equity and solidarity and direct their actions in alignment with those values. 

The performance of Strike! provided myself, our audience and our youth ensemble with a reminder that the theatre piece itself is not the final product—it is just the beginning.