Perpich Partners with Penumbra and NEW DAWN
September 25, 2020
Stephanie Lein Walseth, Ph.D., Education Specialist in Theater, is making important connections with theater organizations in Minnesota. With her direction, Perpich is partnering with Penumbra Theatre and NEW DAWN Theatre Company to provide educational opportunities on the topics of equity and anti-racism. Earlier in the summer and more recently in September, two powerful experiences were provided for arts educators to lean into questions about race and how performance is informed and impacted by it.
“The work of equity and anti-racism has been a vital and ongoing struggle in education,” said Lein Walseth. “In the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of police this summer, along with many, many more unjust killings of black men and women across the country, the need for deep understanding, transformation, and racial justice is stronger than ever.” Perpich Professional Development and Resources (PDR) team felt the urgency of the moment and they were hearing from arts educators across the state who wanted meaningful ways to engage in this work, whether they were beginners on the journey or seasoned veterans. “In moments like this, it is both critical that white educators are willing to take on the labor of deepening their own self-awareness and learning the histories of Black people and other people of color and indigenous people; and that we draw upon the expertise of artists and organizations of color, for whom racial injustice is a lived reality, and who have been at the forefront of this fight for decades,” said Lein Walseth. Given her past work with Penumbra Theatre Company and the artists at NEW DAWN Theatre Company, Stephanie knew that they both could be integral partners in bringing their artistry and training tools to the field of K-12 and college/university arts education across the state.
Both opportunities – Penumbra’s RACE Workshop and NEW DAWN’s A Breath for George film and discussion – provided rich historical contextualization to illuminate the injustices of the present moment, as well as personal narratives from Minnesota artists, activists, and scholars of color about their experiences of racism and racial profiling. “Both were transformative in this regard, brilliantly utilizing the tools of theater and storytelling to provoke participants into thought and action,” said Lein Walseth. “In these sessions, they also modeled practices for creating culturally relevant and responsive art for social change, even amidst the twin pandemics of racism and COVID-19.” Though participants gathered virtually for each event, the impact was significant. PDR specialists facilitated follow-up conversations following the RACE Workshop, and Lein Walseth facilitated a Q&A following A Breath for George. Each discussion brought further, ongoing conversations with educators about how to take the learning to the next step: into their own classrooms and communities.
In schools and districts across the state, in conjunction with Perpich’s guidance, arts educators are now in the midst of rolling out strategies for performance and developing curriculum to amplify student voices. “They are thinking through the reading and research they need to do to continue their own learning, and ways to de-center themselves as educators and directors,” said Lein Walseth. “They are grappling with their power as they consider who is being represented in their curriculum, on their walls, and in their script and casting decisions. They are testing tactics for calling out racism in their classrooms and communities, and calling students into difficult conversations. And they are devising performances with students’ lived experiences and narratives at the center. We look forward to seeing the long-term impact of these shifts, and are planning ongoing efforts to support this work. Our students’ voice, agency, and sense of belonging depends on our commitment to transforming our teaching towards more equitable, anti-racist practices.”
The work is resonating with educators. Mark Rehani, incoming Middle School Theater Educator in St. Francis Area Schools, said, “You all rock. I so appreciate this opportunity and will commit to creating and delivering curriculum designed with an anti-racist and equitable lens.”
Penumbra Theatre creates professional productions that are artistically excellent, thought provoking, relevant, and illuminate the human condition through the prism of the African American experience.
NEW DAWN Theatre draws brilliance out of shadows by illuminating & supporting cutting edge works of overlooked, under-represented communities of our theatrical landscape through innovative, exciting & excellent theater productions.