Kids explore pandemic isolation in Mudlark’s ‘I’m Smiling Beneath This Mask’ – Chicago Tribune
The isolation of the beginning of the pandemic took a toll on everyone. A dozen young people will share their feelings about that experience when Mudlark Theater presents “I’m Smiling Beneath This Mask” May 27-June 2 at Ridgeville Park in Evanston.
Performances are at 7 pm Friday-Sunday and Wednesday-Thursday.
The young people, in fifth-through-ninth grade, are creating the show under the guidance of Khari B., a spoken word musician and educator who is an artist-in-residence at Purdue University.
“I thought that it would be really interesting to highlight these stories of children who were experiencing the pandemic,” Khari B. said. “We know as an adult how we felt but these children’s experiences could have been completely different.”
He believes this will yield a better understanding of how the communities affected by the pandemic.
“And it was to get them as younger people to do some introspection,” Khari B. added. “I wanted to make it a cathartic moment for them.”
He is also encouraging the young people to reflect on the positive aspects of pandemic isolation. One question he posed to them was, “How do you feel you grew during the quarantine?”
Some of the young people selected auditioned for the program; others were regulars with Mudlark, which is a youth theater.
The process began with Khari B. engaging the cast in conversation, after which he asked them to write down some of the things they talked about.
“After they got the general ideas out, I said, ‘Let’s make that into art — make it a poem, make it a narrative, add more detail,’” he related. “Each week we built on what they were sharing.”
Frequent Mudlark performers Amelie Mugg and Jackson Stroth are enjoying creating “I’m Smiling Beneath This Mask.”
Mugg, a 12-year-old Joseph Sears School sixth grader, said she wanted to participate because, “I thought it would be such a cool play to have,” she said. “It’s an opportunity to reflect on what we’ve lost and gained. It relates to everybody in the audience and my castmates.”
Mugg wrote both a poem and a narrative.
“My poem is relating to the idea that COVID is a show — and that’s going to be our closing,” she said. “I wrote a narrative about how I’ve grown during the pandemic.”
Mugg is enjoying hearing the stories written by the other cast members. “I can really relate to what they have to say,” she explained.
Fourteen-year-old Stroth, an eighth grader at Haven Middle School in Evanston, said he wrote a story “about things that I hated in the pandemic and things that I liked during the pandemic,” he said.
Stroth is enjoying the process of this production because, “Getting to write your own story and getting to contribute in the show that way is very cool to me,” he said. “I’m very interested in that kind of work.”
Stroth has presented monologues in the past but he said that he’s learned from Khari B. “to be a better presenter.”
Mudlark Artistic Director Andrew Biliter invited Khari B. to do this project because, “I had heard that he’d done really interesting work as one of our teaching artists during the virtual time,” he said.
Khari B. chose the title of the show, which fit the theater company’s theme for this season. “It’s about finding connection in a disconnected world,” Biliter explained.
In creating the program the two of them decided, “It should be a small cast and that they should speak from their own experience and that we could do it in a kind of no-frills way,” Biliter related. “Center their voices and speak about what they’ve been through, the good and the bad.”
Biliter has a goal for this show.
“I’m hoping that it’s an opportunity for adults and youth in our community to hear directly from kids about what their experience has been over the past two years and how it’s changed them and reflect on how it’s changed themselves,” he said.
“I’m Smiling Beneath This Mask” is a partnership between Mudlark Theater, Khari B’s Discopoetry AEC, and the Ridgeville Foundation.
‘I’m Smiling Beneath This Mask’
When: May 27-June 2
Where: Ridgeville Park, 908 Seward St., Evanston
Info: 847-448-0708; mudlarktheater.org/shows
Myrna Petlicki is a freelance reporter for Pioneer Press.