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Theater festival brings drama to IUP campus

by BILL ZIMMERMAN billz@indianagazette.net on January 13, 2012 2:15 AM

With students on break IUP has been a quiet place for a few weeks, but it has livened up again thanks to the Region II Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival.

More than 1,000 students from the Mid-Atlantic region are visiting Indiana University of Pennsylvania, partaking in performances, workshops and lectures through Saturday.

On Thursday, attention turned from the stage to the community, when Mauricio Salgado of Artists Striving To End Poverty offered two workshops centered on making the world a better place. In the first session, "The Artist as Citizen," 15 students and educators took part in a lively discussion in Cogswell Hall about the role of the artist in the community.

"This is a dialogue that we need to be having," he said. "I have a perspective, and I'd like to hear the rest of yours."

The Juilliard-trained actor opened by reciting an inspirational piece created by an ASTEP volunteer working with disadvantaged youths in Florida, where the organization does much of its work. It included rap lyrics, humor, a little profanity and the line: "No one on this planet can tell you what you're worth." The group was impressed.

When asked to define art, the responses centered on connectivity and healing. Among them: Art is "a language," "something that feeds the soul" and "making something beautiful and powerful when it was nothing." Salgado also led the group through a discussion of poverty, defining it as the detrimental lack of something -- food, love, medical care, opportunity and respect were examples offered by those in attendance. The group then discussed that which they weren't lacking -- love, spirituality, a creative outlet -- and how they could make a difference. In the evening, Salgado offered "Creative Pedagogy in the Community," a workshop that looked at the best approaches to teaching arts in the community. Prior to the workshop, he said the arts are an ideal way to reach students who may feel disconnected in the classroom.

"With the arts the possibilities are quite broad, so there a many avenues, many inlets," he said.

Salgado, ASTEP's director of domestic programs who has been with the group since its inception in 2003, told of how he had just began his studies in New York two weeks before Sept. 11. He said that event influenced him to find a balance between devoting time to his craft and helping in his community. He's acted at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and in off-Broadway productions, but ASTEP now takes up the bulk of his time.

"A community of established and emerging artists who use the arts to inspire underserved youth, teach life skills and awaken young people's imaginations," ASTEP is presenting workshops at each of the Kennedy festival's eight regions as well as at the national festival in April. The group's core programs include art workshops for refugee youngsters and art camps for adolescents living with HIV/AIDS in New York City, art camps for immigrant and migrant youths in south Florida, and academic and art offerings for disadvantaged children in Bangalore, India.

Salgado said he hoped attendees went home with a new sense of commitment to their communities, but also that they consider a role with ASAP, which offers volunteer opportunities as well as some paid teaching positions.

The festival continues today with a performance of "Lindsey's Oyster" by IUP students at 3 p.m. on the Waller Hall Mainstage and "A Dream Play" by Bridgewater College students at 8:30 p.m. in Fisher Auditorium. On Saturday, Long Island University students will perform "Re-Membering Antigone" at 9:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. on the Waller Hall Mainstage and Fairmont State University students will present "The Elephant Man" at 1:30 p.m. in Fisher.

IUP last hosted the Kennedy festival in 2010, an event highlighted by an opening talk from "Independence Day" actor Bill Pullman. On Wednesday, festival goers listened to an opening presentation from John Cariani, a Tony Award-nominated actor who had a recurring role on "Law & Order." During the program several IUP students presented scenes from "Love/Sick," a new play he wrote.

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