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Sunday, June 16, 2024
Students enrolled in a UW-Madison theatre course created "Hunger/Here," an interactive performance that engages audience members with the issue of food insecurity.

Students enrolled in a UW-Madison theatre course created "Hunger/Here," an interactive performance that engages audience members with the issue of food insecurity.

Students use theater to engage Madison kids with the issue of hunger

In a city overrun by restaurants and health-conscious grocery stores, it can be difficult to start a conversation about hunger.

But a group of eight UW-Madison students is aiming to start that conversation with the city’s children as part of a theater course offered by the university.

After three months of research, planning and writing, undergraduate and graduate students created "Hunger/Here," a student-directed and performed project focusing on the relationship between food and the community. During the last few weeks of the semester, the students have performed the piece at schools and community centers around Madison, hoping to engage young students with the issue of food insecurity.

Jen Plants, a faculty associate in the Department of English, teaches the course, entitled “Theatre in Education.” Over the course of the semester she helped students create their interactive piece, which attempts to engage the audience and allow them to take part in the dialogue.

Plants said she chose to tackle the topic of food insecurity after reading a report from last year that showed one in five Wisconsin children are affected by food insecurity. Theater, she said, can help draw attention to this problem.

“Actively preventing, collecting and distributing food waste could nearly end the hunger problem in our community,” Plants said. “I make theater to start that conversation.”

Students who are involved with the performance said it not only aims to inform audience members, but also engage them and allow them to participate.

“Instead of telling people how to feel about the topic of food insecurity in Dane County, our work invites the audience to share their perspectives on the topic,” Mollie Cahill, a graduate student in the course, said.

The group has performed for students as young as six and as old as 16, with audiences typically under 25 people. The performance consists of games, interactive scenes and conversations about possible solutions. It lasts about 30 minutes.

Cahill said she hopes the class’ piece enables audience members to “think of ways that they might intervene in the systems in place that allow this problem to go unsolved.”

Ben Fleer, another student in the course, echoed Cahill’s sentiment.

“Changes can take place in our city,” Fleer said. “We just have to get out as a community, have compassion and respect for one another, take care of one another and make those changes happen.”

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Plants, Cahill and Fleer all said that performing theatre can help show people who are struggling with hunger that they are not alone.

“Hunger is often a hidden problem, and this is often due to shame,” Plants said. “To perform is to reject shame, so the simple act of creating a work where we invite you to look at a problem is a step in the right direction.”

Although the class usually travels to different parts of the city to perform, they will present "Hunger/Here" for a final time Thursday at 1:00 p.m. in Room 1090 of Vilas Hall.

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