UMD’s Voyageurs took center stage this fall when it accepted the Touchstone Award, a $2,500 Duluth Superior Area Community Foundation grant. The award recognizes programs for transforming problems into opportunities, according to the foundation’s website. “This is affirmation of the community impact that this program has had on the Northland,” says Rob Hofmann, development director for the School of Fine Arts.
Now, thanks in large part to the grant, the real stars of the UMD Voyageurs are enjoying the spotlight at Lincoln Park Middle School, where the tagline “Those who can” is exemplified. UMD and Lincoln Park students are partnering in a production called, “The Citronella Project,” a musical starring middle school students and telling the story of a blended family overcoming challenges. A light touch is given to the subject, like having Jethro Troll characters enter stage right accompanied by the familiar riffs of “Aqualung.”
It’s a unique concept. UMD Voyageurs, who are mostly music students, have a residency at a middle school. They spend a little more than a semester teaching the teens all-things theatre: stagecraft, costuming, set design, and tech work. The culmination of their partnership is their production, performed for their school and the community.
Aliese Hoesel, a UMD Voyageur who coauthored “The Citronella Project” and has been mentoring Lincoln Park students for the last 16 weeks, says that this experience is why she chose UMD, “The Voyageurs afforded me the perfect position because I was a performer and a teacher, so I could see how my life could fit into an educational capacity. It was why I was drawn to UMD in the first place, the Voyageur program.”
Throughout the process, Aliese has noticed students challenging both their comfort zones and middle school cliques, “They are sixth graders through eight graders, but when they pass each other in the hall, they’ll say ‘hi,’ so there’s a community that’s being built there as well.”
Jaydin Edwards, a sixth grader, stars as Sophronia, one of three sisters in “The Citronella Project’s” family. She agrees with Aliese, “I met a lot of friends in this play. I didn’t really know my sisters who are in this play, and one’s in sixth grade also, and now I talk with her at lunch. I didn’t think I’d turn out to be friends with her.”
Jaydin and the rest of the "The Citronella Project" cast performed at Lincoln Park Middle School February 6 and 7, 2014.
Since its inception in 2008, UMD’s Voyageurs have performed for 30,000 students in 80 schools from Ely to Minneapolis, weaving a trail of artistic transformation across the state.
Story by Lori C. Melton