Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Project US

So occasionally I've lent my space to others who are doing things that I think people should know about, and today I wanted to share something that my friend Johanna Middleton is working on.
I met Johanna about a year ago, when we worked together on a stage play produced at Northwestern and directed by my good friend and Performance Studies professor Paul Edwards. She's an incredibly talented and focused woman, and she's recently shared with me a project that she's working on, that creates a forum wherein young people can talk about sexual health. Often this topic seems a bit radioactive, as evidenced by the woefully inadequate education in our school systems, and the blanketing of abstinence education from religious organizations as the only way of talking with young people about their sexuality. That's the reason I'm so excited about this project; it sounds empowering for young people, like it meets them as individuals and agents in their own destiny. I'm so excited about what Johanna's doing. She's hoping to take this project to a conference in Austin, and to continue her work in Chicago. If you're interested in how you can help further what she's doing, she can be reached at

Project US recently developed through collaboration between myself and a thoughtful and talented team of Northwestern alumni and students.
I am very proud of this program, which has toured to schools and youth conferences throughout Chicago over the past several months. Recently, Project US received an exciting honor. We have been invited to present and perform our play at the internationally acclaimed Theatre of the Oppressed Conference in Austin, Texas in June 2010. This is the worldwide hub of socially-engaged arts and education!
Project US is an original, participatory performance that works to initiate conversations around young people's sexual health. We created the project in response to the lack of comprehensive sexual health education in Illinois public schools. We strongly believe that it is necessary to create a space for productive and meaningful conversations around health and well-being for youth, using performance as a framework.
Devised in partnership with Chicago youth from schools and youth groups, Project US combines performance, improvisation, and participatory actions to actively engage young audiences in personal dialogue. It is designed so that young people steer the play’s direction; each performance is specific to the individuals in our audience. Students partake in a series of activities and games that actively engage them and challenge them to think and respond critically.
The response has been incredible! Young people tell us repeatedly how much they want more programming like this. When given the opportunity to take personal responsibility, a space to practice tools for healthy communication, and armed with accurate, comprehensive information, students are asking important questions. They are taking charge of their lives and developing the self-confidence and self-esteem to make healthy, informed decisions about their health and futures.
We partnered with Sisters Empowering Sisters (SES), the social justice and leadership youth group of the Chicago Girls' Coalition, on initial project planning and they have been on tour with us. They provide peer-led sex education trainings that supplement the performance. We also partner with the Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health (ICAH), which serves as our umbrella organization.

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