Congo Square Theatre Company: Celebration of Healing
Congo Square Theatre(External link), an arts organization focused on producing transformative Black theatre and engaging organizations that hold its core beliefs, received a $50,000 commission from the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE) as part of the We Will Chicago initiative. With this opportunity, Congo Square Theatre developed a model and framework to demonstrate the arts and culture sector’s critical role in activating and stimulating societal change, particularly through the strategic pillars as defined in the adopted We Will Chicago plan.
Through We Will Chicago, Congo Square Theatre expanded on its pioneering Celebration of Healing (COH) model to respond to goals connecting arts and culture, civic and community engagement, and public health and safety.
The COH initiative combines with the company’s annual productions to provide audiences with a curated space geared toward individual and community healing. As a model, COH began with Congo Square Theatre’s production of What to Send Up When It Goes Down from 2021-22 and was expanded through the We Will Chicago commission for the company’s 2023 production.
2023 Celebration of Healing
In spring 2023, Congo Square Theatre produced the world premiere of HOW BLOOD GO by Cleveland-based playwright Lisa Langford. HOW BLOOD GO is a provocative — and wholly topical — story of two family members who are subject to medical experiments without their consent, 50 years apart, from the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment to today. It weaves the present and past together to explore the strained relationship between the medical community and African Americans in this country. Infused with Afrofuturism, the production debuted at Steppenwolf’s 1700 Theater as part of Steppenwolf’s LookOut series that ran from March 11 to April 23, 2023.
Through HOW BLOOD GO, Congo Square Theatre engaged artists both onstage and offstage in the Celebration of Healing to extend the theme of the production and to activate the goals of the Public Health & Safety pillar — namely, addressing healthcare disparities. Events included discussions between artists and community members, subject matter experts, and organizations to explore the intersections of arts and culture, social and restorative justice, and the health care system.
Bringing the various elements of the work together, Congo Square Theatre’s efforts in 2023 for COH included:
- building new, multi-sector partnerships;
- facilitating community dialogue and collective action; and
- co-creating spaces of healing and resource sharing.
The expansion of the COH model in 2023 for HOW BLOOD GO also included three documentary film screenings and panel conversations, resource fairs with community health partners, and a multi-part webinar series.
Film Screenings + Resource Fairs
March 29: Power to Heal — film screening, community conversation and resource fair at the Chicago Cultural Center
April 5: The Healthcare Divide — film screening, community conversation and resource fair at Equal Hope
April 12: Aftershock — film screening, community conversation and resource Fair at the Woodson Regional Library
FEATURED PARTNER + WEBINAR SERIES
In partnership with the Celebration of Healing, Public Narrative(External link) organized holistic public health conversations, generating solutions to improve health systems in Chicago through its Power in the Public Narrative webinar series.
Take a moment to view these conversations:
March 23: Healthy Chicago Equity Zones (HCEZ) — Watch Now(External link)
March 30: Faith-Based Communities Building Engagement Linkages with Researchers — Watch Now(External link)
April 6: Common Ground – Building Community Connections in a Pandemic — Watch Now(External link)
April 13: Pregnancy & Postpartum Experience in Chicago's Neighborhoods with Increased Adverse Maternal Outcomes — Watch Now(External link)
April 20: Reducing Disparities in Women's Health Care — Watch Now(External link)
April 27: Community Emotional Stability Through a Faith-Based Community-Academic Partnership — Watch Now(External link)
Power in the Public Narrative is sponsored by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and Northwestern Medicine.
In addition to Public Narrative, COH community partners included Equal Hope, Far South Community Development Corporation, Christian Community Health Center, TCA Health, The Association of Clinical Trails Services, Changing Worlds, Chicago Volunteer Doulas, Caris Pregnancy Counseling and Resources, and Chicago Southside Birth Center.
City of Chicago partners included DCASE, the Department of Planning & Development, the Office of Equity and Racial Justice, the Chicago Public Library (Woodson Regional Library Branch), and the Department of Public Health, Healthy Chicago Equity Zones.
A core facet of Congo Square’s model is Radical Community, in which the company builds strategic partnerships with organizations to build support, activate collective power, and share resources. Through the Celebration of Healing, Congo Square Theatre raised an additional $40,000 to support this initiative and the work of its partners.
Collectively, these partnerships, activations, and strategies were used as a means to build a model to encourage neighborhood growth and vibrancy while addressing social and economic inequities that impair Chicago’s legacy as a global city to ensure that arts and culture can be seen as a "fundamental component of healthy communities, providing social, educational and economic benefits that shape people’s lives and neighborhoods” (We Will Chicago).
ABOUT CONGO SQUARE THEATRE
Entering its 25th season, Congo Square Theatre Company (CST) is a Chicago-based ensemble dedicated to producing transformative work rooted in the African diaspora. It is a haven for artists of color seeking to challenge and redefine the theatrical canon by creating stories that reflect the complexities of Black cultures. Congo Square is one of Chicago's leading African American theatre companies and one of Chicago's two Equity theatres dedicated to Black work. With a predominately Black staff and Ensemble, its company and work authentically reflect the communities in the stories it tells.
As an organization that focuses on the Black experience, CST strives to disrupt systems of racism that permeate communities by providing a space where Black art and artists are celebrated and showcased. It is deeply committed to ensuring that Black stories are clearly and unapologetically heard through authentic Black lenses, that Black art continues to be created with excellence and deeply embedded into the cultural landscape, and that Black communities are given space to heal and find freedom and unity through its work.
Its work explores the intersections of arts and culture, social and restorative justice, and community development. It works to intentionally create equal access and opportunity for the creation, dissemination, and display of art through the lens of community healing. In addition to producing transformative Black theatre through a radical generosity model (where it offers up to 50% or more of its tickets completely free to community partners), through its partnerships, it provides tangible resources to audiences and community members that enhance their experience beyond the performance and into their everyday lives through dialogue that highlight pressing issues Chicagoans are facing–COVID-19, racism, healthcare disparities, and police brutality against the Black community, among others. Through this work, CST hopes to broaden the City’s sense of possibility as connected participants in a shared urban environment.