WEOS Finger Lakes Public Radio

HWS Theatre Company Performs for Social Justice

Dec 19, 2017

In November, we reported on a group of high school students who are using theatre to confront prejudice. Justice of Youth worked with a Hobart and William Smith Colleges faculty member to develop their performance.


Mosaic New York is a theatre company of Hobart and William Smith students, but they don’t perform in the conventional sense.

HWS' Mosaic NY performing for Rural Migrant Ministry's Justice of Youth members
Credit Kelly Walker / Finger Lakes Public Radio

  “Mosaic New York, is a theater company. It is made up of students and me, as artistic director and faculty member. And our mission is to provoke dialogue, develop community, celebrate diversity, and encourage the active pursuit of social justice”.

Heather May is an associate professor of theatre at HWS. She founded Mosaic New York in 2014 after being artistic director of a similar company at Auburn University.

“One of the big things that was important to me was that I was able to continue that work wherever i was because i find it extremely fulfilling, and productive, and it keeps me inspired and motivated to keep going. I believe in embodied activism. When I came here, I spoke with various members of the campus community, received a lot of encouragement. Ultimately, we found a home with student affairs”.

The issues that Mosaic New York explore are the sorts of things that might lead to a Twitter war. Long before sexual harassment and assault became so prominent in the news, Mosaic explored these issues with their audiences. They also deal frankly with race, gender, class, and sexual orientation. May believes that Mosaic New York is in a unique position to deal with these subjects constructively.

“One of the things that I think theater does really well, it really forces performers and audience members to put themselves in someone else's shoes. So, there is that embodiment of an issue and thinking about the personal nature of it. And we see the real impact on living human beings. And then i think there is an added layer with something like Mosaic, where we actually write and create, rehearse and shape all of our own pieces. So it is all original material created by members of the community for which they’re performing. The power of that then is that an audience is seeing a member of their community and they know that these issues in fact did originate there, that there’s truth, and it can be taken in and i think listened to and heard in a way that maybe when we read about it an academic article that addresses different kind of perspectives”.

Mosaic New York’s work comes from the company members’ own lives. They share these stories as part of their rehearsal process. Over time, they are refined into short pieces. At HWS, these have focused on situations that students encounter coming to college. May has found that the smaller institution has given the company a greater impact than she had in Alabama.

“One of the biggest differences is that Auburn University is a large state institution, and as such we couldn’t have the same reach that we have on a small campus like HWS. So, here we actually work for and perform for every single student when they come into new student orientation. So, in our fourth year we’ve basically been seen by every single member of the campus community, at least the student body probably at least once”.

May hopes that Mosaic New York’s work with the JOY students is the beginning of more outreach beyond the HWS campus. The company recently performed for the Higher Education Opportunity Program. Following that performance, several other colleges expressed interest in bringing Mosaic New York to their campuses.