Exposure to live theater has an impact of children’s success, according to the National Endowment for the Arts. Researchers suggest theater can shape a young person’s future and help them become more self-aware, compassionate and empathetic.
With those findings in mind, Northwestern’s Wirtz Center for the Performing Arts invited hundreds of young people from Evanston and Skokie School District 65, many of whom had never experienced live theater, to see the Imagine U production of “Me… Jane: The Dreams & Adventures of Young Jane Goodall.”
The visit and production were part of the inaugural community-based partnership between Northwestern University and District 65 called Learn Imagine Through the Theater (LITTT.) Combining lesson plans and learning experiences before and after children attend the play, the program is designed to make live theater more accessible to young people.
“Co-created community partnerships like LITTT can serve as a catalyst for advancing racial equity,” said Dave Davis, executive director of Northwestern’s Neighborhood and Community Relations. “Theater exposes young people to artists who look like them and can provide them an opportunity to see themselves in a way they never imagined.”
Over two Fridays in October, nearly 800 students were bussed to campus to view a morning and matinee performance of “Me… Jane.” Prior to coming to campus, the students were shown an introductory video narrated by Nolan Robinson, a 2022 graduate of the School of Communication and a product of District 65. The video gave the young people a virtual backstage tour plus an introduction to how the play’s designers and director brought their imagined production to life.
“I am delighted with the success of this partnership,” said Rives Collins, the show’s director, professor in the department of theatre, and head of Northwestern’s Theatre of Young Audiences Program.
“Live theater is a hothouse for the imagination and a gymnasium for empathy. From the moment the yellow school busses arrived on campus, we knew we were in for something special,” Collins said.
“Cries of ‘Welcome to Northwestern!’ filled the air as college students greeted the children and guided them to the theater,” he said.