Creating social awareness
The first line of one of Pittsburg High School’s social awareness plays asks, “Do you ever take time to look around you? To truly see?”
The answer, at least for students who have been in Greg Shaw’s theatre classes for the past eight years, is “yes.”
A string of annual original social awareness plays have opened not only their eyes but the eyes of others, and in doing so, have earned statewide awards and national recognition.
In these productions, a prince doesn’t ride off into the sunset with a princess, but rather, the storyline focuses on a topic that can be uncomfortable. They began in 2008 with “Bang Bang, You're Dead." Every year since, students have researched and worked with professional playwright Debbie Lamedman to create original scripts that focus on such topics as bullying, global warming, dating violence, suicide, diversity, prescription drug use, and more.
Talk-back sessions are included with each performance to allow audience members to engage. Licensed mental health care experts have been on hand afterward to provide support as needed.
They have been performed for not only the district’s nearly 3,000 students, but also for about 13,000 students from schools throughout Southeast Kansas.
The plays have supported the goal of PHS to improve the school climate by helping students make safer and healthier choices, and fostering academic and social engagement. Shaw has been recognized for the plays with the KNEA Human and Civil Rights Award and Character Education Partnership's National Award for Promising Practices — awards he said he shares with his students and administrators.
Shaw says his casts make a point to get across to audiences that they aren’t experts — they’ve just become knowledgable.
“We’re starting a conversation," he said. "That’s the whole objective of the entire thing. We just want to elicit a response.”
“Bang, Bang You're Dead” (school violence) • 2008
"Phat Girls" (eating disorders) • 2009
“Ignorance is Bliss--A Global Warning” (climate change) • 2010
“Everyday People” (bullying) • 2011
“Rx” (prescription drug abuse) • 2012
“You Belong to Me” (dating violence) • 2013
“Snowflakes” (Autism and differences) • 2014
"Outside Looking In" (socio-economic diversity) • 2015
"Digital Narratives" (technology addiction) • 2016
"Drowning in Quicksand" (mental illness — depression, anxiety, suicide) • 2017
"The Chasm Between Us" (bias, hate, discrimination) • 2018
"Fine" (when life becomes overwhelming) • 2021
* There was no social issue play in 2019 or 2020