In a city where “staying out of trouble” means avoiding both gangs and police, large segments of our youth are unjustly shouldering the burden of failed public policy, crumbling school systems, political corruption, and predictably, increased violence. While the walls of inequity in Chicago seem less surmountable with each passing season, the Young Fugitives are working hard laying their own tracks to freedom using two of the most powerful tools in existence: their voices and minds.
Presented through Free Street Theater’s IN/HOUSE programming, “Cold Summer” is a play + performance art hybrid examining Chicago violence as told from the perspective of those most frequently excluded from the conversation: Chicago youth. Respectably removed from the inane, sensationalized portrayals of violence found in mass media, “Cold Summer” piercingly delivers much-needed insight about the origins and effects of violence from those who learn to navigate daily through violence, in all its forms, as a rite of passage. “Cold Summer” weaves teens’ stories, research, and current events into a compelling production that is equal parts personal narrative and social commentary. When critically exploring interpersonal, institutional and structural violence through topics as varied as police brutality, poverty, the prison-industrial complex, discrimination, and surviving abuse, “Cold Summer” can get appropriately chilling and heavy. But, thanks to the spirited performances and skilled storytelling of the Young Fugitives, “Cold Summer” is also thoroughly uplifting in a way that young truth-bearing artists do best.
“We have something to say and we’re going to say it.”
In 2013, noting the absence of youth voices in public discussions of Chicago violence, activist and artist Ricardo Gamboa began working on a project addressing this absence while reuniting with a group of youth he previously worked with. Together they collaborated on a performance that would explore Chicago violence from the perspective of youth more closely tied to the phenomenon than the usual, tired camp of pundits, alarmists, and talking heads known to steer this discourse with specious arguments and misguided agendas. Initially developed under a summer employment program, “Cold Summer” soon drew stern criticisms from funders who were uncomfortable with the play’s critical views of Mayor Rahm Emanuel. The teens were asked to censor and modify their work. Gamboa recalls this moment as a turning point: “I was taken aback when a staff member from one of our funding organizations had become so adamant that we censor our play, even prohibited us from performing it because it critiqued Mayor Rahm Emanuel. But it turned out to be the best thing that could happen. I saw the teens organize themselves independently and work to produce this show. They were unanimous: ‘We have something to say and we’re going to say it.’”
Refusing to be silenced, the teens met and rehearsed independently with Gamboa under the banner of Young Fugitives to move forward with their secret production. Free Street became a safehouse for the Young Fugitives and their underground production and is the home of the current three week run. According to Free Street Artistic Director Coya Paz, “Free Street is a place where things like this can happen. We want to create the space for people, even young people, to have complicated and difficult conversations. The Young Fugitives are passionate about what they have to say. We wanted to provide them a home to share their voice.”
In Their Own Words
Too often, youth don’t have a safe space to share their voice and ideas. Those best able to speak to that problem are the youth themselves. Still, the Young Fugitives are armed with solutions. From interview notes provided to Gozamos:
“We need to find a way to change the perception of violence and how we are told to deal with it. We can do this by getting more people educated in the workings of power structures and how they are just not bettering our situation.” – Seline Racey, 17, Canaryville
“This play is different because the people who are most at-risk of dying, coming from the communities where people are actually dying, are the ones performing in it, we wrote it. It’s our perspective.” – Eliseo Real, 18, Little Village
“My favorite part of working on this show is interacting with others and seeing the different mindsets of many different people with completely different backgrounds and connecting with so many different types of people, while having fun. … This play tells our story, true stories, and I am doing this play to make known the lives we live, while bringing smiles to as many faces as possible. … The only way we can stop violence is by being empathetic and showing all forms of violence and understanding where others come from. It’s easy to lock up a criminal, understanding a criminal is a completely different story.” – Omari Ferrell, 16, Englewood
“This play is what the public needs to see youth doing. We are speaking up about an issue that impacts us tremendously. We are sharing our real-life stories with the audience not in an attempt to get cliché messages across but to get people thinking….Violence is not something that just happens. Nothing ever just happens. Violence is not inevitable. ….What WE need to do is educate ourselves on how violence comes about. We need to start recognizing that we can all change lives, whether it’s through a monologue, a song, a piece of visual art, building a school open for anyone, or telling someone that his or her voice and story matters in this world.” – Valeria Nava, 18, of Gage Park
Who Should See This Performance?
Students. Parents. Teachers. People working with youth. People who are sick of violence. People working to stop violence. Young people. Less young people. Chi-Lovers. Freedom Fighters.
For parents and concerned adults interested in how the youth in their lives might be reacting to reports of violence or real-world violence in their environment, “Cold Summer” is an ideal performance to attend as a conversation starter. Take your tween and teen children and other young loved ones to a showing and it is guaranteed there will be no shortage of material to discuss after the show.
What: Young Fugitives present “Cold Summer”
Who: The Young Fugitives, radical teen ensemble, with Ricardo Gamboa. The Young Fugitives are Patrick Blanton, David Dixon, Omari Ferrell, Tyran Freeman, Julissa Garcia, Erick MeCree, Jesse Murphy, Valeria Nava, Daniela Perez, Neptali Perdomo Seline Racey, Eliseo Real
When: Fridays and Saturdays, January 31st through February 15th, Friday showings doors open at 6:00 pm, showtime at 6:30 pm, Saturday showings doors open at 2:00 pm, showtime at 2:30 pm
Where: Free Street Theater, 1419 West Blackhawk Street, Chicago, IL 60642
Tickets: Seating is first come, first served and admission is sliding scale.