Youth Violence Prevention through the Theater

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On February 21st, Assistant Professor Desmond Patton gave a guest lecture to our class on community violence and resiliency among adolescent African American males in Chicago. The story of youth violence that Dr. Patton told was startling, to say the least. I used to live in Chicago and figured I knew the city pretty well. The city that I knew is one completely foreign to the city of Dr. Patton’s research.

A new play at the Steppenwolf Theater in Chicago, entitled “How Long Will I Cry: Voices of Youth Violence,” seeks to illuminate this often unseen, yet very present, aspect of Chicago. The play is composed of true stories from young Chicagoans involved with gangs and street violence. These first-hand experiences play the dual role of not only drawing attention to the issue but also, and arguably more importantly, empowering kids in these neighborhoods. “How Long Will I Cry” can show kids that there are other options other than a life of street violence. By giving a voice to the youths who understand this problem better than anyone else, the play hopes to ignite a powerful search for a solution.

The theater is an interesting prevention medium. This form of entertainment-education has been found to be effective, particularly among adolescents. The benefits of a production like “How Long Will I Cry” includes its ability to reach many people, specifically Chicago youth, yet still maintain a feeling of intimacy. I think the dramatic forum connects with audiences on a far more emotional level than most other health education efforts, a level that potentially leads to greater learning and eventual behavior change. 
It will be interesting to see the reaction the play receives following the end of its run. I’m encouraged by this effort to curb youth violence in Chicago, and hope it inspires others to tackle the problem in similarly unique ways. 

Comments 7

  1. I think that this play sounds very interesting. Certainly, speaking about youth violence in the art medium is a positive thing, but it begs the question as to whether audience members are impacted by the play long-term. If nothing else, this raises awareness, which will lay the groundwork for positive change.

  2. I am from Chicago as well and I know firsthand how Steppenwolf Theater comes into a youth person’s life to help make sense of what is going on. The theater gave me a chance to do something constructive with my time out of school so I would not be involved in other things. It is great to see that Steppenwolf still gives Chicago’s youth a creative platform to address their feelings and promote that all that comes from that community are not so bad.

  3. This is definitely an interesting and novel approach to prevention. I wonder how much the play was promoted in the community, especially the areas that are most affected by violence. Also, I’m not sure how much youth were involved in the actual production of the play or if was more just actors telling the stories and experiences of the youths, but I think it would could potentially be beneficial for actual community members to be involved and and therefore more invested the production. This could give a sense that they were taking a more active and hands-on approach into sharing their experiences with the rest of the city.

  4. Theater is undoubtedly a novel health education approach, but I wonder how successful it will be at igniting a “powerful search for a solution”. Empowerment within the community will continue to struggle for progress until outside political forces make movements to change policy and the economic environment in these areas. This is not to say that empowerment does not have it places. Empowerment is a crucial tool to getting the attention of decision makers by organizing as a voting bloc. However, I question how exactly theater would play into these change making processes.

    Nonetheless, it is clear that making a difference in the lives of even a handful of youths is important and can have life long impacts on not only these youth but also everyone they are connected to in their community.

  5. Theatre, unlike movies, is almost reality to an audience. Different scenes within a play capture moments that audience members remember forever. To produce a play about first hand experiences from people and the violence they encountered as youth will not only leave an ever lasting impact on individuals, but will also help create a connection between audience members and the actors in such a way that will help the audience members understand that they are not alone, given their unique circumstances. The solutions that people search for may or may not be answered through this play; however, the stories would make a profound effect on the youth who watch and may leave with more options than originally thought. This is a great way to reach out to the community to become more involved in extracurricular activities and keep youths off the street.

  6. It is awesome to know how there is different ways to connect with the youth now days. I strongly support the idea of having an entertaining educational play available to youngsters, especially to those who relate with violence they experienced or witness everyday in their community. I really hope this play is being effective to those who believe they cannot make a difference in their families or communities. Having youth watch a play that can impact their life is great, it reminds me of plays we have at my church. I think difficult life situations sometimes have to be seen differently, especially when we think there is no hope for change or a good outcome. As I myself have been part of an audience of many plays where my life was impacted one way or another, I believe that many others can also be encouraged to make a difference in their life.

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