Mudlark Theater Company spring break camp empowers Evanston Latine youth

An illustration of a purple stage with curtains and two drama faces laughing and frowning.

Illustration by Anna Souter

Latinidades Spring Break Camp worked to provide culturally specific theater opportunities for Latine youth.

Martha Contreras, Reporter

At Latinidades Spring Break Camp last week, children ages 6 to 10 explored and affirmed their Latine identity through butterfly drawing and mirroring exercises.

The free, five-day camp is part of a year-long program created by the Mudlark Theater Company, an Evanston nonprofit that empowers children as artists. The program, which aims to provide theater opportunities for Latine youth in Evanston, is funded by a $47,000 grant from Northwestern’s Office of Neighborhood and Community Relations and is designed in collaboration with NU students and faculty. 

The program began Fall Quarter with a 12-session theatre workshop held at NU for middle and high school students. Mudlark also kicked off a bilingual theatre class in collaboration with Washington Elementary School’s dual-language Two-Way Immersion program. 

“The goal of that program is to create dual-fluency in the classroom and not have a bias toward one another but (to) have a supportive learning space,” Anastacia Narrajos, education manager at Mudlark, said. 

The spring break camp offered a culturally specific Latine lens for 21 elementary students — most of whom were Latine — to explore their own identities and stories. It also served for parents as a free childcare during the academic break. 

Narrajos said the camp aimed to create a supportive space for students to take ownership of and articulate their own stories locally, allowing them to come out of their shells while having fun.

“I hope to find more ways to partner and work with the community, while changing the framework for why we do theater,” she said.

Latino and Latina Studies Prof. Myrna García said this free opportunity “removes barriers,” and honors historically free Latine labor — including the work she herself did for the Mudlark project.

García created the camp’s curriculum as an opportunity for students to see themselves. Each day had lesson plans and activities that highlighted five different themes. For example, the students discussed topics such as the importance of names, the meaning of community and the impact of migration during the camp. 

García emphasized the importance of co-collaboration for creating that curriculum, noting the help of Communication Prof. Henry Godinez and NU students, as well as input from middle and high school students who participated in the fall camp. 

“I’m not getting paid for this,” García said. “I’m doing it from mi corazón.” 

Weinberg sophomore Kelly Vogt helped design Latinidades’ programming and assisted artists in teaching for three of the five days.  

Vogt said she was moved by seeing people gain awareness about their Latinidad at such a young age, especially being half Mexican herself. 

“Seeing that awareness at seven is really special, and it heals a little bit of me. I never had that,” Vogt said. “They’re proud of it. You could see it.”

The 19-year-old also started helping Mudlark’s full-year theater program at Washington Elementary School in March, where she now works with third graders twice a week in similar activities. 

This spring, she also began taking García’s course Latino 391: Curandera Histories, Counter-Stories, & Knowledge, which is a companion course to the Latinx Mudlark Theatre Project. 

García said the class will teach students to think creatively on how they perceive their identities and express themselves while they create narratives and performances — just like the children at the camp. 

Vogt agreed, saying the class is already providing an opportunity for her to step out of her body and head through active exercises, a refreshing experience compared to her other NU classes. 

García said she is hoping for a grant renewal to run the yearlong program again next year. If not, she hopes to continue it by finding a deeper and more sustainable engagement with the community. 

“Here is a local opportunity. When we think about community engagement, it’s right here,” García said. “Latinx (people) are here in Evanston, and here is a space and dynamic that’s affirming.”

Email: [email protected] 

Twitter: @marthacontrerr 

Related Stories: 

Asian American, Latino and Latina Studies programs continue to push for departmentalization status

‘With specificity, there’s universality:’ Destinos uplifts and amplifies Latino voices

Juan Geracaris becomes the city’s first Latino councilmember