Over the 2016-2017 school year, 50 students from Duke University collaborated with dozens of high school students from the Southern School of Energy and Sustainability in Durham, NC to create a live show, Just Listen. The show was centered on original narratives written and performed by five Southern students. It also included music and dance.
video by Carol Jackson
Just Listen was produced by Duke MPP/MBA candidate Evan Taylor.
"So what we want to do with Just Listen is use performance art to tell narratives as a way to bring people to the table to just listen to the stories of the community," said Taylor.
"One of the ways I framed it [to the high school students] is I said, 'If someone said what's your story, you could probably talk for two hours, or you could probably talk for three minutes.' I was like, 'I want the three minute version of it. Find one scene, one episode, one memory that stands out, then let's find a way to package that into a really powerful piece.' "
Taylor estimates 25 of his Sanford classmates participated in the project. Some committed to weekly rehearsals at the high school. Others coordinated logistics for the event. Taylor sees a clear connection between the production and policy, noting, "If you're not listening to stories then you're somehow detached from how policy should be done."
The high school students who wrote, memorized and performed pieces for the production were all profoundly moved by the experience.
Tyrese Frink had never performed on stage before.
"This is definitely something that I'll take with me forever," he said. Frink's raw and honest story brought tears to the eyes of many in the audience, who gave the production a standing ovation.
"I think there's a huge need to learn all the quantitative pieces of policy, all the rigorous pieces of policy. But I also think there's a more qualitative feature that we need to not lose track of," said show producer Taylor. "My passion is finding ways to see how policies impact students all the way to their families. And I think connecting with that could allow us to have policies that are that much more effective."
Students from UNC-Chapel Hill, North Carolina Central University and Henderson Collegiate Middle School also participated.
Just Listen was funded by a grant from the Sanford Impact & Innovation Fund.