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Senn Students Explore The Impact Of Violence And Incarceration In New Docudrama

Senn1Day after day, they spent their lives behind bars, a mere number in a prison cell. But a play to be performed by Senn Arts High School students at Raven Theatre on May 19 and May 20 will demonstrate that these formerly incarcerated men are much more than just a statistic.

Mechelle Moe wrote “Broken Text” based on interviews she conducted with more than 20 men who are transitioning from incarceration in the Illinois prison system. The play was then work-shopped with about 80 students from Orr Academy, Sullivan High School and Senn Arts High School.

“I’m really grateful to the men of St. Leonard’s (Ministries) for sharing what they shared with me,” Raven Theatre’s director of education said on Tuesday, May 5, referring to her month-long interviews with the men in September 2014. “It’s a very intimate script.”

Moe said the men were willing to share their stories with her because they were interested in having their voices heard by children who come from similar circumstances.

“These stories really connect with the kids I work with,” she added. “It’s a huge thing for them to see someone who has spent 10, 20, 30 years in incarceration and to see them have a desire to change their lives, to see them have a desire for hope. These men are committed to having better lives, and I think that’s a really great message.”

A report released by The New York Times in April said 1.5 million black men are in essence “missing” from American society as a result of high incarceration rates and early age violent deaths. An estimated 45,000 of these “missing” men are from Chicago, a press release about the performance said.

“Broken Text” seeks to explore the culture of violence that leads many young men into the criminal justice system and prison while also exploring their diverse experiences behind bars. It also addresses the challenges these men face while transitioning back to the outside world following their release.

“I would say at least 60 percent of the students who have been working with this script have had direct encounters (or) connections with these men’s stories,” Moe said. “They have parents who have been incarcerated, or cousins who have been incarcerated, or family members who have been involved in gangs. They have a very personal connection with the stories that we are reading and rehearsing.”

“Broken Text” is result of a partnership between St. Leonard’s Ministries, Raven Theatre’s Take Flight Program and Fifth House Ensemble.

For the past 10 years, Take Flight has served Edgewater, Rogers Park and Andersonville communities. It works to give students an opportunity to learn the basic principles and disciplines of theatre and to use theatre as a means to improve life skills. Take Flight has been in residency at Senn Arts High School since 2007. Moe has directed more than six productions at the school in the past four years.

Fifth House Ensemble is a Chicago-based group that seeks to develop young audiences through curriculum-integrated interactive concerts and residencies for students in kindergarten through grade 12. Programs are customized to the curriculum of each school and aim to promote active listening skills and to connect music to a wide variety of subjects.

“Broken Text” is directed by Mechelle Moe and Joel Ewing. Performances will take place at 7 p.m. on May 19 and May 20 at Raven Theatre, 6157 N. Clark St. Admission is free.

For more information, call 773-338-2177.


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