Kara Foster calls it "forum theater"—the idea that a socially-conscious theater production can teach an audience how to change the world.
The concept was on display on Tuesday at Woodland Elementary School in Eagan, where Foster and fellow actress Joia Tellez used an interactive performance to teach students about water quality and environmental respect.
"All people learn differently. In the schools, you don’t get much of a chance to have this type of learning, where’s it’s completely visual. There’s an entertainment value," said Tellez.
Foster and Tellez are both actor-educators with CLIMB Theatre, a nonprofit children's theater company based in Inver Grove Heights. CLIMB tours local schools, giving performances addressing environmentalism, cyberbullying, acceptance of differences and other topics.
On Tuesday, Foster and Tellez acted out the roles of Minerva the Mink—an animal caught in a web of garbage and pollution—and Jessie, a local girl who visits the wetland where Minerva lives.
Over the course of the 45-minute play, Foster and Tellez led a classroom of energetic first-graders through a game and several question-and-answer sessions as Minerva and Jessie's tale unfolded. The play addressed stormwater management, water quality and proper trash disposal, among other issues.
The performance was commissioned by Eagan city officials interested in promoting water quality, Foster said.
The lessons seemed to hit home with Foster and Tellez' first-grade audience.
"Don’t throw any trash bags in the river because the animals could get stuck in them and they couldn’t breathe and get sick and die," said first-grader Jasiah Rogers, following the performance.
His classmate Harper Madson followed suit with a lesson of her own.
"Never throw grass in the drain, because it can make the water dirty and it can also make fish sick," Madson said.