Sky Islands and Talk-it-OUT!, a forum theater program at the University of Arizona, are partnering this year to develop History in Action, a projects- based program made possible by a grant from AZ Humanities that is designed to be critical, participatory, and contextual. History in Action is designed to address vital questions raised by ‘wicked problems’ in our state’s history as they relate to society and the environment by combining the study of history with performance art. Each quarter, the students study a broad theme, visit relevant historical sites, conduct interviews, and create a dramatization of the narrative with Dr. Aurelia Mouzet and several of her students from Talk-it-OUT! that is performed for the whole school, and eventually wider audiences.
For the first quarter, the students study the broad theme of water in the Southwest, and created a series of vignettes describing John Wesley Powell’s voyages to map the Grand Canyon, present his plans for creating new states in the arid West around watersheds to Congress, the taking of land and water of long-established Mexica families in the Tucson region by anglo settlers, and the era of dam building on the Colorado River.
For the second quarter, the theme was food in the Southwest, so the students created two skits- one that re-told the O’Odham stories of how they selectively bred their traditional crops and about the threat that coyote the trickster posed to them, and one about wealthy Eastern entrepreneur Colin Cameron coming to Arizona and creating the cattle boom of the late 19th century; ultimately leading to environmental ruin. In addition to performing at the school the students also took their show on the road and performed the entirety of their first semester’s skits at the UofA.
In the third quarter, the focus was on the land- including the conflicting and changing views of the land by people of different cultural groups, and of their competing interests for it. This included contrasting the experiences of Native Americans, Mexicans and Mexican Americans, Chinese American immigrants, and anglo settlers. The performance was arranged into a series of vignettes that showed the experiences of each of the first three groups before, during, and after the arrival of anglo settlers, and then the final vignette showed the experiences of the anglos themselves. Also, for the first time this performance included opportunities for audience members to come on stage after each round of vignettes and ‘change the situation’ and right historical wrongs, and the results were as hilarious as they were insightful!