Art creates path to social activism

Art creates path to social activism

Shannon Shea plays the trumpet

Theater is often said to be art imitating life. But, when it empowers audiences to take action, theater can also be an art form that sustains life.

That is what Shannon Shea, a theater arts graduate student in the University’s College of Arts and Letters, discovered last spring. Shea was responsible for organizing a successful fundraiser that paired a fellow student’s play on the lingering devastation of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans with a silent auction to raise money for a rebuilding project in the city.

“The play and the fundraiser fit nicely together,” Shea said. “Theater is something that takes us away from our everyday lives to live the life of someone else … someone who actually needs our help right now.”

“The audience’s direct reaction to the play was to donate,” she added.

With the help of students at Cal State L.A. and Louisiana artist George Rodrigue – who donated six of his Blue Dog silkscreen prints to be auctioned and raffled off – Shea was able to raise $3,381 for Habitat for Humanity’s Musician Village.

Shea said the work of Habitat for Humanity directly correlated with the play’s message. The group is building single family homes in the 9th ward for musicians who once lived in the area, fled the storm and have not returned.

Written by fellow student Obed Silva, What a Wonderful World highlights how Katrina affected music and culture in New Orleans’ 9th Ward. The story is told through the dialogue of two souls who have returned to the city a year after the storm.

The story and the fundraiser reflected the perfect blending of art with social activism, said Theatre Arts Professor Susan Mason.

“The students (and) the audience members saw theater as a tool to connect to social activism,” said Mason, who was the highest bidder on one of the Blue Dog prints. “I would love to see more of this.”

“(Shannon) was undaunted,” Mason added. “It was bold for her to do this. And it was a really healthy thing that Shannon has shown us all by just trying and saying ‘Why not?’”