After nearly losing its theater teacher, Washburn's program continues to thrive

Washburn students.

Washburn students.

Six months ago, the future of Washburn High School's theater program hung in jeopardy.

Beloved theater teacher Crystal Spring, who infuses a social-justice sensibility into her work as an educator, nearly lost her job after speaking out against police officers arresting a black man on the side of the road in south Minneapolis. She was put on administrative leave, but after a vocal outpouring of support by the community, she ended up with an apology from the school administration instead.

This fall, Washburn's Blackbox Acting Program continued without a hitch. This week, they take the stage at the Phoenix Theater in Minneapolis to present original work that has been developed from the ideas, experiences, and hopes of the young artists who are a part of the school's program. Topics explored in the show include the school to prison pipeline, how media influences people, Native identity and culture, mental health issues, and rape culture.

"Everything we talk about comes from the students," Spring says.

Creating an environment where young people feel comfortable talking about serious topics, which often impact them personally, requires a nurturing environment. "We build a safe space and community, which allows them to speak their truth," says Spring.

Meanwhile, students also work on their acting, improvisation, and character development skills as they devise scenes and write original plays that have their own truths woven into the story.

This week's showcases will include a fully realized 50-minute program put together by intermediate students, and a preview of the show created by advanced students that will eventually tour schools around the Twin Cities. "[Both showcases] challenge the status quo in society," Spring says.

Spring is grateful that she's able to continue the work of using theater for social justice. "I try to show up inside and outside of the work, as someone who is conscious. I live my beliefs inside and outside of the classrom," she says.

Spring started the program nearly a decade ago, modeled in part after the Central Touring Theatre, founded by Jan Mandell, in St. Paul. Like her mentor, Spring aims to support high school students finding their voice through theater, helping them to create plays that touch on issues that are important to them.

Theater 2/3 Showcase
7 p.m. Wednesday, December 14-15
Phoenix Theater
2605 Hennepin Ave. S., Minneapolis
$5 suggested donation