The events of 2020 shook many of us to our core.
A deadly pandemic, repeated instances of racial injustice, a warming climate, and more, all coalescing into much more than any one person could handle. In a time where we were forced to stay apart from those we love most and could not connect in ways that we grew accustomed to, many turned inwards and sought out to make change in our communities in any way that they could manage. For those who found solace in the performing arts, finding creative ways to connect with audiences and tell their stories was no small feat but was a journey that needed to come to fruition.
TheatreUNI students harnessed the anguish and heightened anxiety brought on by the events of 2020 and channeled it all into a new creative work: Dream With ME. This creative energy culminated in a student driven, devised, multimedia, filmed theatrical work. In order to guide the creative process, the students utilized and explored many unique genres of storytelling, such as Hip-Hop Theatre, Documentary Theatre, Theatre of the Oppressed, and Theatre for Social Change through guidance by their professors and industry professionals. The intention of Dream with ME is to further commitment to an inclusive and equitable world while highlighting how theatre can inspire and ignite change within our community.
Kyah Sneed, an actor in Dream With ME and a Theatre Performance major at UNI, shared the impetus for the project and how she came to be involved. “[Theatre faculty at UNI] thought of the idea and wanted to engage students in what was going on in the world during a global pandemic. They also wanted to introduce us to theatre for social change, a type of theatre that asks the audience to really reflect and engage in what the actors are saying and how that pertains to real life experiences,” she recalled. “I heard about it and immediately wanted to do what I could to be a part of the process. As a Black student at a Predominately White Institution, it’s important that my voice be heard during a hard time for African Americans in 2020.”
Another student involved in the project, Devin Yarkosky, detailed why the work is needed in our community today. “I think all theatre comes with a message. There’s always a call to action, a need for change, a cry for help, even. This type of art is so important, not only for the performers, but the audience.” She continues, “It invokes so much thought and emotion out of anyone who gets to experience it.” Devin also highlighted the significance Dream With ME holds as a piece from students by students who crafted works of art from their own hearts and souls, a narrative that holds great importance and needs to be shared.
This type of storytelling was new for a lot of students who participated and many entered the experience not knowing what to anticipate. Every student who participated left with a renewed sense of hope and understanding of their own capabilities. Taylor Mast, a Theatre Performanceand Theater Design and Production major, was among the students who felt transformed by this new creative process. “What I didn’t expect is how much my piece (“I am Not a Man”) meant to me. Originally, it was part of an assignment that I did in a night or two and it was just a bunch of phrases that I put on a page so I could then film it. While I was filming with help from a friend, I put a lot of work into every aspect,” they explained. “As we filmed it for Dream With ME, I could feel it get deeper into my soul because they were words that I wish I knew when I was younger.”
Julie Matta, a writer and performer in Dream With ME, found inspiration in the collaborative process of this endeavor. She was excited by “how many different people, work ethics, and brains could all work together to make a beautiful piece of art. It was a process that was like none I've ever had before because I was learning from my peers and they gave me feedback in a constructive and honest way.” Matta continued, “We all looked out, not only for one another, but to honor the pieces each one of us had created.”
There is a driving force unique to every artist who poured their soul into this project, however, one thing that remains consistent across the group is that they created this piece to inspire and to incite change. “To tell our stories and see ourselves reflected is all that we ask for... This is why I do this, in hopes that I can make someone feel that they are never alone, that they have a voice, a weapon, given to them by divinity to use to do wonders they can't even begin to imagine,” shared Julie. “It is not over and maybe it will never be enough, but I'd like to start. I find comfort that I know that I'll never be alone.”
This multimedia, revolutionary film will premiere at Gallagher Bluedorn, located on the University of Northern Iowa’s campus, on Friday, August 27 at 7:00 p.m. The screening is free to students, $5 for UNI faculty and staff, and $10 forthe general public. Dream With ME will become available for streaming on August 30 for $15. More details are available at https://theatreunivirtualfestival.uni.edu/.