Digging holes : Milwaukee youth's response to socially and politically driven theatre
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This study considers the impacts of First Stage Children’s Theatre’s 2004 production of Holes on the community in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The goal of this research is to investigate the relationship between political engagement and youth theatre impact in the Milwaukee community over the past 12 years. It also considers how the First Stage production of Holes in 2004 leveraged its positionality to advance discourse around controversial, social justice topics. This study was conducted in collaboration with First Stage Children’s Theatre, located in Milwaukee, WI. It was designed to understand impact between the theatre’s 2004 production and its youth audiences. Consequently, it integrated various perspectives from both the theatre company and the broader Milwaukee community. Utilizing qualitative research and a case-study, this study was conducted through interviews and a group workshop with First Stage staff as well as audience members who attended the 2004 production. I also looked forward to the 2016 production in order to gauge a comparative, longitudinal approach to understanding perceptions of change in political and social justice issues. The results reveal how First Stage Children’s Theatre positioned themselves as a prominent, cultural organization and utilized that power to craft a meaningful narrative. This study includes a multi-layered analysis that looks at both the organization’s structural success as well as their approaches specifically for Holes. Through the story of Holes, First Stage was able to examine the politics of the juvenile justice system, a controversial social and political concern in Milwaukee. I argue that First Stage Children’s Theatre was a space that allowed audiences to critically consider their own perceptions around the politics of race in the juvenile justice system and encouraged these audiences to be more empathetic to all participants within this system.