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Students Discuss Faith, Identity, and ‘Art Activism’

Center Theatre Group’s Youth Theatre Forum Brought Together Teens and ‘Disgraced’

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The Youth Theatre Forum for "Disgraced" at The Music Center Annex.

Photo by Ryan Miller.

Disgraced is a play that everyone seems to be talking about across the country, from my family in Chicago to many friends here in L.A. I had heard about how the play dealt with contemporary faith and religion head-on. So when I received an email about Center Theatre Group’s Youth Theatre Forum for Disgraced on June 17, 2016, I got excited. Who doesn't want to see a great show for free? Then I read that there would be workshops (and food!) before the performance, and my excitement managed to double.

The Forum started with an introduction to the play and its characters, followed by three hour-long workshops focusing on faith and belief, identity, and “art activism.”

At the center of Disgraced are a few different characters’ struggles with identity. Emily, who is white, is infatuated with Muslim art; her husband Amir (who was born into the Muslim faith) wants to get away from Islam; and Abe, Amir’s nephew, has adapted to American culture while keeping his Muslim faith. Our workshop on identity did not focus on scholarly or philosophical perceptions of identity; instead, we talked about how identity works in our own lives.

The workshop on faith affected the way I viewed the play the most. The thing about teenagers and faith is this: we all have opinions about it, but for various reasons we never share them. I loved that this workshop was a safe, open place for us to discuss this topic. I was surprised by how many of us hate how the news handles religion in current events, especially fear-mongering about Muslims.

Disgraced is centered around a discussion that turns into an argument. The faith workshop really was about discussion (no arguments though), and let everyone get a chance to have their voice heard. It also had us learning more about the Muslim faith specifically. It was great to see how even when someone didn't know something they were still hungry to learn more, since so many of us mostly or only hear stigmas and stereotyping.

The third and final workshop focused on “art activism,” which showed how a myriad of art forms can promote change around social issues. We identified art that has already promoted change (like Disgraced), then separated into teams to create our own ideas for art activism projects. The best part was how many different types of art forms and issues were covered. Every team came up with a different idea, truly showcasing how much change we all can create, big or small.

The ending of Disgraced was more cynical than I expected. The play asks a lot of questions but doesn't provide dogmatic, easy answers. It respects the audience’s ability to think about these topics and draw their own opinions. I loved the opportunity to talk about these issues in the Youth Theatre Forum beforehand, then watch the play and draw my own conclusions.

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