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Grey Box Collective explores dealing with trauma through art

ASU students and alumni create visual art about social issues in latest show 'The Crumble Collection'

Imani Randle grey box

ASU alumni Molly Schenck, creator of Grey Box Collective, poses for a picture at The Artist's Box in Tempe, Arizona on Friday, Sept. 27, 2019. 

Through different artistic mediums, ASU artists are telling heavy stories in a sensitive, safe way.

Grey Box Collective, an organization consisting mainly of ASU students and alumni, aims to bring awareness and education to deep-rooted societal issues through live visual performances. 

The organization will be hosting its biggest show to date — "The Crumble Collection." The show will be held in The Artist’s Box Oct. 18-20. 

To broaden the organization's goal of inclusivity, tickets will be sold at a “pay what you can" rate. 

Molly W. Schenck, a freelance artist who also works at the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts and founder of Grey Box Collective, is one of the show directors for "The Crumble Collection."

Schenck said the collection will consist of five different short performances that will focus on the complexities of everyday emotions, experiences and battles — such as systemic trauma and the welfare system. It will be a mix of theatre, dance and audio. 

From entering everyday battles to social media through the eyes of children, each of the five performances will cover different societal issues. 

“The idea behind this is creating spaces outside of traditional classrooms that will allow for education for things that we don’t necessarily get an education on,” Schenck said. “There’s not really a guide that tells you how to deal with sexual assault.” 

Sarah Tan, a graduate student studying theatre for youth, will be showcasing her piece called “Friend me, Follow me, Say hello” that will highlight the pros and cons of social media for children. 

Tan’s production will consist of a live performance by 6 year olds to show the aspects of social media through their eyes.

“When I was younger, Facebook was really emerging and there was so much dialogue taking place around social media,” Tan said. “I always felt conflicted because I never thought social media was fully bad or fully good.”

Tan said she recognizes the pros and cons of technology use among children and how it has been a divisive topic that evolves each day.

“They don’t see how technology or social media can divide us,” Tan said.

To combat any potential harm, Tan said Grey Box Collective has worked to create a healthy workplace for everyone.

"We want to create a rehearsal that is sustainable, one that responds to the overworked and underpaid artists," Tan said. "We are really hoping to try and put people's mental and physical being first."

Grey Box Collective’s performances host counselors from La Frontera Empact, a counseling and suicide prevention center, to serve as a resource for viewers if content becomes too heavy or sensitive.

William Crook, an ASU graduate and audio producer for Grey Box Collective, said the greatest part of the organization’s work is having counselors on site to provide support for the audience on how to deal with a variety of trauma. 

"Trauma affects all of us in one way or another," they said. "There is a level of care that I don’t see in art a lot of these days."

Crook wants audience members to leave the show with a different approach that differs from traditional therapy.

“I hope audience members take away insight and realize that we’re all going through it and that there's solace in that,” Crook said. “I hope people can gain a perspective on their own lives and trauma while gaining a new level of empathy.” 

In addition to live visual performances, Grey Box Collective hosts a series of workshops, titled "Crumbs, Nuggets, and Muffins," on trauma-informed practices to encourage emotional well being. The upcoming workshops will take place on Nov 16. And Dec 14. at The Artist’s Box. 

“The idea is to start with tiny pieces of creativity, put all those crumbs together, and turn them into a baker’s dozen,” Schenck said.

Schenck said the primary focus of Grey Box Collective is taking care of others and talking about mental health, while letting staff members expand to areas outside of their degree. 

“Taking care of ourselves is a big theme and thread at Grey Box Collective that is embedded in our organizational structure,” said Schenck. “How can we take care of ourselves — and therefore each other?” 

Correction: The previous version of this story incorrectly stated the organization's tax status, it has been updated to reflect the change. The story also misstated Schenck's title at the University, it has been updated to reflect the change. 

Clarification: The story has been updated to include the middle initial of Schenck. The story was updated Oct. 9 to include a more timely multimedia embed. 

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