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Skagit Valley College students explore topics through theater

December 3, 2018

Skagit Valley College drama student Jessica Lonergan sings during her group's performance Wednesday at the college.

MOUNT VERNON — Under the brights lights at the Phillip Tarro Theatre last week, some of the nation’s top issues took the stage.

The students in Skagit Valley College drama instructor Damond Morris’ introduction to theater class performed “Living Newspaper” productions, where short plays are created based on timely news events.

The Living Newspaper program was started as part of the 1935 Federal Theatre Project — a New Deal program to fund live arts during the Great Depression, Morris said.

“In order to build shows quickly, they would pull from the headlines,” Morris said.

Some of the topics the students covered, such as drug abuse, “fake news” and police brutality, were different than those covered by actors in the 1930s.

But some topics, including homelessness and race, remain issues today.

“Getting to a topic is sometimes the hardest part,” Morris said.

For each performance, groups of students had to pick a topic, research it — including the pros and cons, and quotes from news articles — and then decide how to present it on stage.

“The trouble with writing about real-world issues is you have to make it so everyone can relate,” student Ian Linke said.

Linke’s group used the topic of vaccinations to delve into the world of misinformation and fake news; another group used former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and President Donald Trump to explore police brutality.

“If we don’t talk about it, if we don’t say ‘These are the things we need to talk about in our society,’ how do we fix it?” Morris said.

The tough part, student Tushar Sharma said, was being able to address topics the students had never experienced, such as homelessness, in a respectful way.

“These problems are so near and dear to people’s hearts,” student Joshua Sullivan said.

It is because the issues are so important to some people — but not to all — that they need to be discussed, Morris said. Throughout history, theater has been a place to do that.

“If we can find that place, that shifting point, then hopefully we can change some hearts and minds,” Morris said.

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