Happy new year to all of our wonderful APTP family and friends! As we welcome the new year, we look forward to all of the people and experiences we will encounter as we move toward our production of Learning Curve, our immersive theater performance that premieres this summer and places audiences within the walls of a Chicago public school and in the shoes of its students.

The 2015-2016 school year has brought many new faces to the theater. Two dozen new youth have joined the ensemble, most of them alumni of our middle-school programs at Albany Park Multicultural Academy and Volta Elementary School. We’ve also welcomed Benjamin Serrano to the APTP staff as our new Community Partnerships Coordinator. Whether we are longtime friends or new acquaintances, we are all still learning about one another, our communities, and our world. In other words, for all of us, it’s back to school.

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Before the break, ensemble members participated in a series of clowning workshops led by Jay Torrence, writer of the play Burning Bluebeard produced by The Ruffians. Ensemble members practiced bringing out their “inner clown” by connecting to raw human emotions. Ensemble member Nichole Espineli reflects, “The clowning workshops with Jay were so much fun, I learned a lot about how eye contact with the audience is super important in clowning. I think I can use that in the near future as an APTPian.” The company was even able to attend a production of Burning Bluebeard at the Den Theatre. They witnessed the techniques they learned in the clowning workshop magnified as they learned about the people involved in Chicago’s 1903 Iroquois Theatre fire. Ensemble members described the performance as “magical,” “like a weird dream,” “intense,” and “just like the workshops.”

During the break, four ensemble members in the Class of 2016 spent their vacation completing college applications with APTP college counseling staff members. Our fifth senior this year, Justin Martinez, had already been accepted as a Posse Scholar with a full-tuition scholarship to St. Olaf College! The rest—Gustavo Duran, Chelsee Nava, Alyanna Parajado, and Jesi Rojo—worked rigorously to perfect their personal essays and applications. APTP’s college counseling program has helped more than 50 alumni succeed in and graduate from college. Nearly 70% of APTP youth graduate college by age 24 which is 7 times the national average for low-income students. Check out the photos of the Class of 2016 applying to their first college!

Now that the break is over, Learning Curve is at the forefront of our artistic priorities and ensemble members, staff, and visiting artists are preparing for this ambitious and exciting production. Upcoming tasks include finalizing a site in which Learning Curve will be set, heading back into rehearsal with our collaborators from Third Rail Projects, and teaching our youth about contemporary education issues in Chicago. Though some faces are new, what remains consistent is our commitment to making art that speaks to the community and with Learning Curve underway, that commitment remains strong.

Check out our ensemble in a workshop from earlier this month: