Crystal Spring: Shaping a New Generation with Theatre
Crystal Spring (BA ‘06, theatre arts) first saw the value of a theatre-centered community during her time as a student in CLA. Now, as a teacher, she aims to highlight this significance while showing students that theatre is perhaps more relevant than ever.
Where do you currently work? What’s your favorite thing about what you do?
I teach social justice theatre in Minneapolis Public Schools (Washburn High School and South High School). My favorite thing [about my job] is witnessing young people get inspired by theatre. Whether it is on a field trip or doing activities in class—[I love] to see young people realize that theatre isn't just one thing (Shakespeare!). Theatre is and can be a reflection of them, their identities, their cultures, their lives! Theatre doesn't have to be dead, it doesn't have to be from the past, it doesn't have to be Eurocentric. It can be here and now—the stories and histories we are living out in the moment. Theatre can help us to process and heal.
Which of the CLA core career competencies has helped you the most in your career?
Active Citizenship and Community Engagement. I remember my senior semester, I was barely on campus, spending 3 days a week at St. Paul Central High School with Jan Mandell in the Blackbox Theatre class. The U of M felt like my launching pad into the community, which is where I felt most at home—in community. Sonja Kuftinec's class Theatre for Social Change is how I connected to many community outlets. Being on the West Bank connected me to Bedlam and Mixed Blood Theatres. When I saw an opportunity to be involved I jumped at it.
How has your industry/profession changed since you started your work in that area?
This year will mark my 15th year teaching in Minneapolis Public Schools. It has changed the most in the last three years with surviving the pandemic, trying to come back from virtual learning, the teacher's strike, and living through the historic uprising in the Twin Cities. Combining all these things has made for a bumpy past three years. Add in the fact that Minneapolis is becoming more gentrified and expensive—we are definitely seeing that impact our students and families.
If you could go back to your time in college, what advice would you give to yourself at that age?
Sometimes I wish I had tried harder in aspects outside of my area of expertise. I gave a lot to teaching and youth, which was beneficial, but it may have been worth my while to pay more attention during tech class. In theatre, you are going to have to do everything—you are not only going to act, or teach, or direct. You are going to need to build community. You are going to need to write grants. You are going to need to problem-solve. But in the end, my biggest strength is building community, which I have no regrets about!
Also, I was fortunate to take social justice classes with Professor Lisa Albrecht and Feminist Pedagogies with Professor Eden Torres. Those classes impacted me deeply. Looking back I would have taken even more classes outside of theatre, and prioritized studying abroad as well (I chose to graduate a semester early for financial reasons). Both these classes are where I had deep conversations around race, class, privilege, culture, and intersectionality. We read bell hooks and Angela Davis. I wouldn't be who I am without the influence of those professors and classes.
What future endeavors are you looking forward to?
I have spent so much time developing myself as Ms. Spring—who I am as the teacher, the educator. I really hope to spend some time pouring into Crystal, and develop my loves, passions, and identity outside of work.
My students will also be performing original work at the Rarig Center’s Stoll Thrust Theatre on December 14 and 15 at 7pm. This is the result of a continued partnership between the U of M theatre department and the Minneapolis Public Schools, thanks to Sonja Kuftinec!