Decrease font size Reset font size Increase font size

Finding Radical Hope, on screen and beyond: OISE faculty’s research-turned-play releases documentary, resource tools

March 19, 2021

Perry King

Towards Youth, a play on radical hope by Andrew Kushnir in collaboration with Professor Kathleen Gallagher, examines how young people are doing in recent years of global unrest. The play was created with material collected by Gallagher and Kushnir from visits to drama classrooms in five countries (photo by Aleksandar Antonijevic). 

Nancy Cardwell remembers that day clearly, when the research team was in Coventry, England, sitting down with a bunch of kids the day after the Brexit referendum result.

“The way that they were with each other, the way they welcomed us [was warm],” said Cardwell, a doctoral student in OISE’s department of Curriculum, Teaching and Learning. But more so, as these kids from the Canley Youth Theatre came together, instead of hitting the stage and going for it with a full performance, they came together in a circle to talk about their experience – their anxieties, their worries for the future, even disagreements about the Brexit saga.  

“I mean, extraordinary things happen in the everyday and we just luckily happened to be sitting around that circle at that time,” said Cardwell, who was affected by the group’s ability to listen and empathize.

Cardwell is one of many University of Toronto researchers involved in the Radical Hope Project, (2014-2019) a multi-year international research project that examined how young people are doing in our recent years of global unrest. That research led to the production of a play and a film documentary that is now available for viewing.


Co-directed by Chris Altorf and Andrew Kushnir, the 22-minute documentary on the Radical Hope Project takes viewers through multiple drama classrooms around the world—from England to Taiwan, India, Greece and Canada. 


The project includes international researchers, educators, activists, artists and a team of University of Toronto researchers – led by OISE professor and Royal Society Fellow Kathleen Gallagher, an award-winning researcher who has used the drama classroom as her primary forum for ethnographic research.

Co-directed by Chris Altorf and Andrew Kushnir, the 22-minute documentary takes us through multiple classrooms, from Coventry, England to Tainan, Taiwan, Lucknow, India, Athens, Greece and classrooms in Toronto. The film is a small slice of the experience for all involved, with over 250 students who participated in this remarkable study prior to the coronavirus outbreak.

“It was about bringing the voices of researchers, actors, playwright, journalist together to create a short documentary film that ‘pulls the curtain back’ somewhat on some of the activities of the research and the creative process of making a Verbatim play from that research,” says Gallagher, whose federally-funded research project “Youth, Theatre, Radical Hope and the Ethical Imaginary” was the base material for the film.

For the researchers who are featured in the film – Gallagher and Cardwell, Dirk Rodricks and Scott Mealey – it was the challenge to distill complex ideas into digestible and still compelling discoveries from the research. “It was also wonderful to see the actors speak about their process and how they, too, understood the drama classrooms they’d grown up in,” Gallagher added. “Part of the magic of the film was also seeing the original footage from the research sites alongside the design of the theatre world that was created.”

For Cardwell, kids are smart and this research, this documentary, really reveals how much adults don’t know – what she calls a generation gap.

“Because too often, the arts are not recognized as a rich, imaginative and critical resource. They are not mobilized enough within education and are always precarious, the first to go when cuts happen. Making that case – building that bridge – is really, really tough,” said Cardwell, a Dora Award and Juno Award-winning dancer and choreographer.

The work strives to get away from “deficit thinking” when thinking about kids and their experiences, she says.

“There are so many creative possibilities in curriculum building and in pedagogies. I think you don't have to be a dance specialist, or a drama specialist to bring questions to young people and, and ask what they want to do with them.”

Extending Radical Hope, globally

The pedagogy of the drama classroom and the insights of the study offer creative possibilities for new generations of teachers and students. With that commitment, the Finding Radical Hope team, Gallagher and doctoral student Brooke Charlebois leading, developed a resource tool – so that, Gallagher says, students and teachers can “meet” other students and teachers worldwide, “to glimpse the challenges and dreams of others who are also committed to drama as a form of ensemble-building and collective imagining.”

Gallagher and Charlebois convened a screening of the film with a group of teachers from different Ontario school boards.

“After watching the film together (virtually), we held some focus group conversations to understand what value the teachers saw in the film,” says Gallagher. “It was here where Brooke and I learned that the film made the teachers feel seen, it made their work legible, it renewed their faith in what they do, in some measure, and they therefore saw the film as doing important advocacy work.

“So, as we developed the pedagogical activities, Brooke consulted with the teachers for their feedback, their input, their critique. It was a collaborative process that we now feel happy to be sharing with any interested teachers or theatre facilitators.”

During the Finding Radical Hope's trip to Coventry, England, the kids at Canley Youth Theatre, rather than hitting the stage with a full performance, came together in a circle to talk about their experience with Brexit (photo by Dirk Rodricks.)

The next steps

The future is full of possibility for the Finding Radical Hope team, and it begins with exposure.

The team would love for the play to have another production, says Gallagher. “And for young people in drama classes everywhere to read aloud the words of other young people, to imagine themselves inside the world of the play,” she adds.

Andrew Kushnir’s play, “Towards Youth: A play on radical hope,” will soon be published by University of Toronto Press alongside Gallagher’s book about the research, titled Hope in a Collapsing World: Youth, Theatre, and Listening as a Political Alternative. “We hope that book makes it into the hands of graduate student researchers interested in arts-led research as well as young theatre-makers and experienced ones who want to produce the play,” she says.

There is also a recently published edited collection, Global Youth Citizenry and Radical Hope: Enacting Community-Engaged Research through Performative Methodologies, that includes the voices of all the international collaborators, artists, and graduate students involved in the project.

With the film and resource tool, Gallagher hopes it bolsters the work that drama teachers are doing worldwide to support the creative and political lives of young theatre-makers. “I hope it also helps them communicate to their administrators and parent communities the critical importance of the work they are doing with young people in theatre-making spaces,” she says.

In the meantime, the Hope team are working on another five-year project with all of collaborators from the last project – and a new set of collaborators in Bogotá, Colombia. “In this work, we are centring climate justice in a project that is using different theatre pedagogies to explore, create and raise our voices about the intersecting socio-ecological injustices plaguing our local and global communities,” says Gallagher.

The new SSHRC project is called, Global Youth (Digital) Citizen-Artists and their Publics: Performing for Socio-Ecological Justice (2019-2024) and is now underway.

For Cardwell, whose work focuses on arts in education through the lens of critical literacy studies and feminist theory, she loves what Finding Radical Hope has delivered – and will continue to deliver.

“What I like about hope and research, it's not about getting to answers. It's kind of about getting to the next question,” says Cardwell. “Because we never get the answer – the right answer. There's no right answer. There's many answers.

“And I feel like this next question, the climate emergency, is the important one right now in our time, so let's get into that. Then that will beg more questions, more exploration. And I feel like this kind of dynamic questioning in research is a really healthy place to be.”


More OISE stories

OISE alumna establishes bursary for Indigenous (First Nations, Métis and Inuit), Black Indigenous and Taino students

'Emotionally involved': International student Dr. Salma Siddiqui reflects on deep bond with mentor Dr. Cindy Sinclair

Climbing the charts: QS World Rankings places OISE third globally in latest subject ranking