“You made him see that gap. Between what he was assuming about you, and what you really are,” Emily says to her husband, Amir, in the first scene of Disgraced, the opening production of the Goodman’s 2015/2016 Season. The couple is recounting a recent experience in which a waiter made racist assumptions about Amir, and the speed with which those assumptions were upended once Amir spoke. This gap, between what others assume about us and who we really are, is a divide which Goodman Education and Community Engagement is particularly curious to explore.

Each summer we have the joy of welcoming 80 students from across Chicagoland into Goodman Theatre’s PlayBuild Youth Intensive, our six-week program for 14-to-18-year-olds. PlayBuild is designed to validate the voices of its participants and inspire them to examine their own potential for creativity through storytelling techniques. The program culminates in a public presentation of an original performance conceived and executed by the participants. In light of the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, and the unrest facing our nation in recent years in the wake of deaths of men of color such as Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Freddie Grey, the young artists of PlayBuild 2015 spent the summer investigating image and identity. Their performance was built around the central metaphor of water, an element capable of providing life and taking it away. The stories shared during PlayBuild forced each of us to consider our true selves and the biases that may shape our perception of those we encounter every day.

“Who am I? Who was I yesterday, who will I be tomorrow and how do I make the world better for those who come next?”

We are excited to carry this crucial investigation of identity into the 2015/2016 Student Subscription Series (SSS), during which Goodman education staff will work with teachers to design lesson plans to enhance their theatergoing experience. This season SSS students will attend performances of Disgraced, A Christmas Carol, Another Word for Beauty, Carlyle and The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window. Each of these works uniquely explores the self that we are now, expected to be and hope to become. They also ask us to examine how we manage our professional, religious and familial relationships when opinions don’t align. Are we beholden to something greater than ourselves? Who has the right to define beauty, and when and where we can experience it? What are the ethics of representation and who governs them? How is the self manipulated in social and mass media, and is our reputation a reflection of action or opinion?

In PlayBuild Youth Intensive’s culminating performance, The Water is Rising, the ensemble asked themselves and their audience, “Who am I? Who was I yesterday, who will I be tomorrow and how do I make the world better for those who come next?” While the 80 artists of The Water is Rising started this investigation with Goodman Education and Community Engagement this summer, we cannot wait to continue exploring identity throughout the 2015/2016 school year with the 2,800 Chicago public high school students who will join us for these productions.