In 2007, Penn State professor of theatre Susan Russell set out to address the reality of social issues at the local level by gathering voices from within the community itself.
Russell, a professional actor of 25 years before arriving at Penn State, created Cultural Conversations, an annual week-long festival that unites both Penn State faculty and students, as well as members of the community, to bring about cultural awareness and change in State College.
“Talking about social issues with young people through performance is not only a way that empowers them to speak about their lives, but it also empowers them to take agency in their culture around them,” Russell said.
This year’s festival, entitled “Indigenous Knowledge: Knowing Who ‘We Are,’ ” is an effort to address and begin a process of healing from the issue of sexual abuse.
The festival will kick off Monday night with three original one-act plays written by students from Russell’s advanced theatre course.
On Feb. 5 and 6, members of the State College Area High School, Stormbreak Youth Program, Penn State’s School of Dance and PSU PHREE organization will unite in two performances for Body Language, part of Russell’s community arts efforts featuring a collaboration of original writing.
Cultural Conversations will feature Penn State University Choir along with the LA Gay Men’s Chorus in their performance of “It Gets Better” Feb. 7 at Eisenhower Auditorium.
On Friday, Feb. 8, Pulitzer Prize finalist Dael Orlandersmith will be performing her most recent play entitled “Black n Blue Boys / Broken Men” before the debut of her national tour.
The week of theatre will close on Feb. 9 with an original performance from adult State College community members such as Webster’s Bookstore Café owner Elaine Meder-Wilgus and Penn State faculty member Pamela Monk.