A shipwreck on an island could have been a disaster, but it worked out pretty well for College of Education junior Kelsey Brown.
That's because the island is the backdrop for an original play by Brown, a communication sciences and disorders and theater major. The idea won her this year's Sustainability + Arts award from the University of Georgia Office of Sustainability, and the $2,000 grant will allow her and other members of the UGA Children's Theatre Troupe to produce "Another Kid's Treasure Island."
The play is unique in that it combines the arts with science and engineering concepts, and its ticketed performances this spring will also feature an innovative extra: makerspace stations where the audience can create new things from recycled items. The story follows the adventures of three siblings who set out on their boat but get shipwrecked on an island. While there, they meet up with another marooned child and begin inventing things to help with their rescue.
"One of the big things we wanted to do with this project was not only reach out to students, but also bring the sustainability aspect to other theater majors," said Brown. "Many student-produced shows have very little funding, if any at all, so we can really benefit from thinking outside the box, repurposing and sharing items."
The Children's Theatre Troupe is one of Brown's passions, and she said they have made an effort in recent years to push the boundaries of their shows. For example, a performance last fall for elementary students through the Experience UGA program used projections and digital graphics to help tell the story. With "Treasure Island," Brown said they plan to take the show on the road for several performances, so the set needs to be portable. And because the students are used to being budget-conscious, using upcycled materials fits with the sustainability aesthetic.
In fact, the bulk of the sustainability grant will instead be used to set up the makerspaces for the on-campus performances and provide take-home bags for families so they can tinker with their own set of curated recycled materials, such as lights, tape and "tinker cards" to play with at home, said Brown. "Plus books to read and ways you can be more sustainable at home," she added. "So, we're trying as much as possible to make it something worthwhile for families to come. We don't want to just do it for our sake."
A nugget of inspiration for the show came from a class Brown took with College of Education instructor Gretchen Thomas, who teaches a makerspace class open to all majors. This semester's class is collaborating with Brown on the play to collect reusable materials and develop the makerspace stations for them.
Although, Thomas contends, Brown likely would have come up with the concept on her own; it was simply the class that helped her connect the idea to the term, "makerspace."
"Kelsey's really good at seeing the ordinary and figuring out how to make it very different, which is really what making is all about," said Thomas. "I never would have connected makerspaces and sustainability. And it's a great way to get families to come out and tinker."
"Another Kid's Treasure Island" will be performed April 23-25 at the UGA Fine Arts Building, as well as a special outdoor performance at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. April 23 at the State Botanical Garden of Georgia. Tickets are $5 (cash only) for all performances; children younger than 12 are free. The troupe also plans a show at Scottish Rite Hospital in Atlanta and a few other locations around Athens.
Brown said the combination of theater and technology might seem strange, but it's actually a perfect combination—and one that will please a larger audience.
"So many of the concepts in theater are important in engineering, experimenting and even coding. That's kind of what the original intent behind this collaboration was," she said. "I'm sure there's no sustainability or entrepreneurial guru saying, 'No, we don't want children to learn this.' Teachers, engineers and professionals alike are always looking for an outlet to teach STEM skills to the next generation, and theater is the perfect medium."
"It doesn't happen too often presently because we, as theater students and professionals, are just not experienced in those areas," she added. "But I see a lot of pairing up in the future, especially in the science field, because theater is a great way to not only grab young people's attention, but also educate."
This story also appeared in the Athens Banner-Herald.