American Theater Co. & National Public Housing Museum Announce Educational Partnership

American Theater Company (ATC) and the National Public Housing Museum (NPHM) are proud to announce a new partnership to co-create and pilot an educational curriculum in Chicago Public Schools based on ATC’s critically acclaimed The Project(s)—a documentary play on Chicago’s public housing conceived, co-written and directed by ATC’s late Artistic Director PJ Paparelli and co-written by Joshua Jaeger. In addition to the curriculum, ATC will condense The Project(s) into a 50-minute educational touring production.

The 50-minute production will tour to Chicago Public Schools in ATC’s American Mosaic program, an intensive six-week arts residency. Participating schools include: Roberto Clemente Community Academy, Kelvyn Park High School, Wells Community Academy High School and Bronzeville Scholastic Institute. Students will study the condensed version of The Project(s) and produce a portion of it with the guidance of ATC teaching artists. The NPHM will enhance ATC’s existing curriculum by providing the historical, cultural and social context of public housing to the students. This will be the first time American Mosaic students engage with a play in the middle of its development process with ATC; the students’ work on the play will greatly inform both the development of the piece and the curriculum.

“The three plus years during which I had the privilege to work alongside PJ on The Project(s) were easily some of the most formative for me, not just as an artist, but as a person in the world,” says Joshua Jaeger. “Through it all, PJ and I had many conversations about the ultimate goals of the play, and I think that in the back of our minds we knew that while we were bent on creating a powerful piece of theater, there was the potential for an even more powerful educational component to the piece. There is no better home for the play, in my mind, than in our classrooms and places of learning.”

ATC will condense The Project(s) over a series of text-and movement-based workshops, and collaborate with the NPHM to develop the curriculum. Leading the play process are Director Jess McLeod and Dramaturg Sarah Slight; leading the curriculum process is the NPHM’s new Associate Director Robert Smith III.

“The Museum’s mission is to preserve, promote and propel public housing as a human right, andThe Project(s) does this in the most powerful form of art possible: storytelling,” says Smith. “Now that we have the keys to the building and a plan to open next year, we are excited to launch this partnership with ATC in order to bring the stories of public housing to as many audiences as possible. Ultimately, the Museum amplifies the stories of those most affected by housing policy to serve as the catalyst for public policy transformation.”

“Our development partnership with the National Public Housing Museum perfectly encapsulates ATC’s mission at work,” says ATC’s Artistic Director Will Davis. “We are tremendously proud of the collaboration and the way this project is growing. The Chicago Public School students we work with and our high school Youth Ensemble will all participate in various phases of the development, and the finished touring production will continue the work of the original show, drawing audiences into vital community conversations.”

The general public will be able to attend the 50-minute adaptation of The Project(s) when ATC’s Youth Ensemble performs the work later this summer. Specific dates to be announced.

From 2010 until 2014, Paparelli conducted over 100 interviews with scholars, historians, and former and current residents of Chicago’s public housing, including Cabrini-Green, Robert Taylor Homes, Wentworth Gardens and Ida B. Wells Homes. The world premiere of The Project(s) at ATC in 2015 interwove this verbatim interview material with a cappella music, body percussion and stepping.

The Project(s) was originally funded through a grant from The Chicago Community Trust, who will continue to fund The Project(s) with an additional $75,000 grant to ATC for the development of the play and the tour, and a $25,000 grant to the NPHM for the development of the curriculum.

About American Theater Company

American Theater Company (ATC) challenges and inspires its community by exploring stories that ask the question, “What does it mean to be an American?” ATC’s Ensemble includes Patrick Andrews, Kareem Bandealy, Jaime Castañeda, Kelly O’Sullivan, Tyler Ravelson, and Sadieh Rifai.

American Theater Company is partially supported by a grant from the Illinois Arts Council, a state agency, and CityArts grant from the City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, the Lloyd A. Fry Foundation, Polk Bros. Foundation, the MacArthur Fund for Arts and Culture at Prince, and the Shubert Foundation.

About the National Public Housing Museum

The National Public Housing Museum is the first cultural institution in the United States dedicated to interpreting the American experience in public housing. The Museum draws on the power of place and memory to illuminate the resilience of poor and working-class families of every race and ethnicity to realize the promise of America.

Photo: Penelope Walker (right) and the ensemble of American Theater Company’s world premiere documentary play “The Project(s).” Image by Michael Brosilow