We Will Be ‘Louder Than A Bomb’
The background of most in the Fire Circle Theater is on the live stage, as actors/directors/writers/producers. However, our purpose in founding a company was not to inspire young people to be actors/directors/writers/producers but rather to inspire them to be better versions of themselves: better students, better friends, siblings, better co-workers and, down the line, better parents. That is why we are so excited to participate in ‘Louder Than A Bomb’.
If you aren’t familiar with the (inter)national force that is ‘Louder Than A Bomb’, you should check out their website and the incredibly moving poetry written by youth in the program. Louder Than A Bomb (LTAB) aims to provide young people with a creative outlet to investigate their lives and express their thoughts and emotions in healthy ways supported by a community. From the LTAB website:
“Founded in 2001 after the Twin Towers fell, during a time when young people of color in Chicago were being targeted by an anti-gang loitering law which aimed to take away their right to assemble in groups of more than two…Chicago-based poets - Kevin Coval and Anna West - and a group of educators created a space for youth to congregate and express themselves through the writing and performing of spoken word poetry...What started with a handful of teams spitting bars in a basement has grown into over 120 teams all over the city and the suburbs competing to packed houses....Now more than 13 cities across the country and Canada use the LTAB Chicago model to educate and organize.”
In February, 2018, three members of the Fire Circle Theater traveled to an (inter)national symposium hosted by the Young Chicago Authors. It was powerful and moving and there is no way to express in writing the depth of feeling exploding from the hearts of these young people, but a couple of stories may help.
On the first day we saw a group of high schoolers in a Social Justice class speaking in careful and sophisticated ways about their own personal injustices. Students talked about not wanting to go into stores because they would be followed and hasled. They expressed feelings of isolation as they grew up on TV programs like the ‘Proud Family’ that were not showing them what their lives would really be like. Students talked about the violence they have seen in their homes and in front of their homes and in the alleys behind their homes and in their parks and schools. Young people talked about their friends needing to steal from neighbors or sell drugs in order to survive and provide for their families. They talked about their friends dying. One student said we should be careful because not all white people hate all black people (as many blacks believe, he said), just like not all black people are dangerous and violent (as many whites believe, he said). These young people, all aged 15-18, were respectful to each other even as they sometimes disagreed. They supported each other. They created poetry that moves you to tears, as I was when I walked out of the classroom weakly trying to thank them.
On the third day we went to the kickoff event for the 2018 Louder Than A Bomb competition called ‘Crossing the Street’. The purpose is to bring together youth from across the city to share experiences and to meet as interconnected humans. Over a thousand students aged 14-18 showed up at 10am on a snowy Saturday in February in Chicago in order to write poetry and perform for each other. Young people opened the doors of the high school and were welcomed, not by metal detectors and security guards (as is usual), but by a red carpet, a drumline, and multiple cheer squads. Hip-hop music was playing and everyone was dancing and singing, led by The Happiness Club - a local youth dance group. Within two hours of arriving in the central auditorium, these young people were inspired by poetry readings, organized into small teams, dispersed into classrooms to collaborate, ate lunch, and then back into the auditorium where they performed ensemble pieces they had written together. All of the audience members cheered and danced, again led by The Happiness Club.
Though we are only beginning, this is the spirit we want to create in our programs at the Fire Circle Theater. We want youth engaging in respectful but heartfelt dialogue and debate. We want youth to feel empowerment through creative writing and performance. We want people listening to each other across experiences.
We came back from Chicago with certain knowledge: that young people are capable of deep self-investigation and self-creation, that they are hungry for it, and that it can be a healing, transformative, and insightful experience for themselves and the community. We are excited to bring Louder Than A Bomb to the North Bay, and hopefully to establishing a community of reflection, sharing, and support.