Race is often whispered about, or not discussed at all, for fear
of offending someone, appearing insensitive or sounding politically
A group of Chicago teens will scoff at these subtleties and
hesitations this July. These diverse youth from a mix of races and
backgrounds will share their most personal experiences with
race-and they'll do it on stage.
Lookingglass Lab, a summer program for Chicago teens, will
create the hourlong play during an intensive 13--day workshop and
perform July 5--7. The student production complements Lookingglass
Theatre's world premiere adaptation of Studs Terkel's Race: How
Blacks and Whites Think and Feel About the American Obsession,
which opened in June at Lookingglass Theatre's new home, Water
Tower Water Works.
The 24--member youth ensemble will write their play after
sharing their experiences with race and gathering oral histories
from the Chicago community. These young people have all been
touched by race, in both positive and negative ways.
"I feel as though I experience racism all the time," says Chanel
Coney, who is 16 and African American. Wendy Melgar, 17, grew up in
Guatemala and never noticed race until she moved to the United
States when she was 7. "I realized I'm different; I'm from
Guatemala; I have something to bring into a group," she says.
Miranda Elliot, 15, had her first encounter with race with her
best friend in fifth grade. "We thought people were staring at us
because we were insane kids. Then people started saying we
shouldn't be friends because she was black and I was white."
These young people have big plans for this production and what
it could mean for racism on a larger scale.
"We as a generation have an unprecedented opportunity to do away
with racism," says Toby Altman, a 15--year--old white male. He sees
racism as much more subtle in today's world, which he thinks leads
people to believe--incorrectly--that racism is gone. "I feel like
there's an underlying level [of racism] in our society," he says.
"Instead of being worn on our sleeves, it's worn on our
"They're giving us the opportunity to express ourselves, to open
up to each other," says Dominique Brown, 16 and African
"It's really hard to resolve anything," says Coney, "unless it's
talked about, brought up into the light and looked at." She adds
that their youthful idealism also helps in discussing such a
difficult issue. "We're a little more open--minded, more willing to
hear others' views and experiences, and embrace them and create an
understanding around them," Coney says.
The two ensemble directors are excited to lead this energetic
group, which shares their vision and passion for eradicating racism
Director David Kersnar, one of Lookingglass' founders hopes the
teens will go deep and examine not only how race affects them, but
also how they unconsciously participate in racism. Director Lisa
Biggs, an African--American actress, playwright and producer who is
also a member of the world premiere production of Race, says,
"We're conspiring, in the very best sense of the word, to transform
"When I was listening to their stories about their encounters,
it infuriates me. I can see on their faces the way it's shaped
their view of themselves and their community," Biggs says. "I hope
they leave further empowered. I hope I leave further
The teen ensemble will present their play at 7 p.m. July 7 at
Water Tower Water Works, 821 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago. They also
will have an open dress rehearsal on at 7 p.m. July 5 and a
performance at noon July 6, both at the Mexican Fine Arts Center
Museum. For tickets or information, call Lookingglass at (773)
477--9257, ext. 193.
Photo by Josh Hawkins Left to right: Chanel Coney, Dominque
Brown, Wendy Melgar and Toby Altman play a warm--up game where they
strike poses together while holding each other up.
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