In 2021, American Players Theatre received a Major Grant for a project called "The Words Between Us." This week-long residency in four rural high school classrooms reached over 300 students.
This program made me excited to come to school
in a way that I haven’t felt since before COVID.</em>
- High school student participant
American Players Theatre is one of the country's largest outdoor theaters, located just outside of Spring Green in southern Wisconsin. Since APT staged its first play in 1980, the company has been committed to education, outreach, and finding ways to engage young people in an exploration of the ever-expanding experience of what it is to be human.
"When actors do plays, they have to step into situations they don't personally understand. They have to find ways to relate to the characters, find commonalities. Our teaching artists take these skills into the classroom to work with students who may not immediately relate to a work of literature about people with lives really different from their own," explained APT's Managing Director Carrie Van Hallgren.
Using a Wisconsin Humanities Major Grant, APT piloted a week-long residency this past fall called The Words Between Us. Over 300 students in fifteen English and Literature classes in high schools in rural Sauk County and rural Dane County read novels by authors of color that had not previously been taught. These were texts that might have been new to the teachers, too.
The APT teaching artists used skills they have developed as professional actors to lead in-depth explorations of the themes and characters. They also worked hard to make sure everyone felt comfortable speaking up, sharing honestly, and expressing vulnerability. It's an intense curriculum that doesn't shy away from difficult discussions about race, bias, and identity.
One of the teachers explained, "The program artfully weaves together discussions about our nation's history, references of notable events in the anchor text, personal stories of the diverse teaching artists, and opportunities for students to share, which organically creates a safe space for open dialogue.”
Wisconsin Humanities is proud to have supported this innovative pilot through our grant program. Every year we give away more than $200,000 in grants for humanities programs around the state, all designed by communities to serve communities.