The hour has barely struck nine, it’s nearly finals week, and the temperature is dropping rapidly, yet Brigid Warnke ’13 (Long Beach, Calif.) and Salima Seale ’14 (Washington, D.C.), theatre and dance majors, are brimming with excitement. They’re talking about their fall internship, which they spent as teaching aides at St. Paul Central High School’s Central Touring Theatre. And their enthusiasm is contagious. As Seale puts it, “It’s an amazing program. And it doesn’t happen anywhere else.”
Central Touring Theatre (CTT) was founded 36 years ago by Jan Mandell, who has been running the program ever since. The high school students of various racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds who take part in the program work all year to craft an original theater piece.
The young actors then perform their play throughout the Twin Cities, reaching up to 10,000 people each year. For the last few years, one of their tour stops has been the Macalester campus, which is where Seale first saw the group perform.
As CTT interns, Warnke and Seale helped students to craft and refine the writing that will eventually come together to create the show. Ideas don’t come from the program director or teaching aides, says Seale, but from the students themselves. Though she notes, “It’s fulfilling when someone pulls you to the side and asks for help, or brings you something they’ve written and asks if you want to hear it.” Adds Warnke, “I really love hearing the stuff that the kids have been writing and working on by themselves. They’re incredibly passionate about it.”
A key part of CTT’s mission is “to provide a safe space for youth to explore artistic expression as a powerful and meaningful force in the world.” Because CTT’s shows are often based on real-life experiences, the classroom becomes a space to explore subjects that can be challenging to teach.
“Kids are having really difficult discussions about race and privilege,” says Warnke. Those discussions often make their way into the finished production, but even when they don’t, they have a big impact on both the students and the teaching aides. Both Warnke and Seale were deeply moved by one male student’s monologue about his inability to imagine what women go through in American society.
Both Mac students are confident that the experience working with CTT will stay with them. Indeed, Warnke dreams of returning to South Africa, where she studied abroad, to set up an exchange program between CTT and her Johannesburg school. And Seale hopes that someday the Muslim community she grew up in will have space for young people to talk and be heard as students are in CTT. “It’s so necessary,” she says.