I Am We Are
I Am We Are cast members at awards dinner -- recipient of Magnuson service award
I Am We Are with Rwandan anti-genocide activist Paul Rusesabagina, who praised the troupe's performance in Building Bridges.
I Am We Are was founded with collaborative sponsorship from the Diversity Office and the Department of Theatre and Dance. From the beginning, its mission included the use of performance to create constructive conversations about race, gender, sexuality and identity. When Amy Seham began teaching at Gustavus, she forged a partnership with the director of Diversity for advising I Am We Are and for identifying, contacting and encouraging students of color to see the group as an open and valuable resource for them. The recruitment effort is constant, and the group goes through different levels of diversity – with the strongest and most representative groups including active members who are Hmong, Indian, African American, Latino along with gay, lesbian and bisexual students. I Am We Are creates performances using Theatre of the Oppressed techniques, improvisation and story-telling. Scenes are based on the personal experiences of troupe members, so it is especially important that the group include a variety of backgrounds not only in terms of race and sexuality, but also in terms of class, physical ability, body image, addiction and experience of violence. The troupe builds a sense of trust with one another that enables frank and free exchange of ideas, and creates intense, charged performance material that strongly affects its student audiences.
The group presents two formal shows each year, along with several smaller productions, demonstrations and workshops. E Pluribus Gustavus is a special performance, created and rehearsed in late August for first-year orientation. This frank, intense, funny and sometimes shocking presentation is especially designed to provoke honest conversations in the organized post-show discussion groups that follow. The show engages with racism, homophobia, sexual assault, loneliness and a number of other issues relevant to college experience. A great many students have said the E Pluribus Gustavus was their most memorable and positive experience in the entire orientation process, and a number of students have expressed gratitude that the show made them “realize they were not alone” in their fears about fitting in at Gustavus.
Every spring, I Am We Are also participates in the Building Bridges Conference sponsored by the Diversity Center. The group creates shows that respond to the theme of each conference, including Education, Genocide and Putting Awareness into Action. Keynote speakers at the conference often comment that I Am We Are demonstrates an excellent means of effective action for social change. Throughout the year, the troupe works on awareness issues of all types, including responding to a recent campus incident in which cars were spray-painted with racist, homophobic and anti-Semitic slogans. They hosted a theater workshop for students to share stories, create images, and express emotions in a public rejection of bigotry. Dr. Seham and a number of students from the group have presented workshops at the annual Pedagogy and Theatre of the Oppressed Conference.