The Illinois State Theatre Outreach Program (ISTOP) is working hard to shine a light on social justice issues by stepping into the spotlight themselves. 

The registered student organization is open to students of all majors who have an interest in theatre, production, casting, production design and technology, community service, and social change. ISTOP members produce plays and hold play readings using scripts written by authors from underrepresented groups and focused on racial and social issues. The group also holds fundraising events throughout the school year to promote and support local philanthropies.  

“We’re focused on using theatre as a vessel for social change in the Bloomington-Normal area, and we like to keep that definition broad because it lets our members choose how they want to attack that goal,” said junior Ryan Renc, ISTOP’s president.  

Renc joined ISTOP as a freshman and has appreciated meeting many like-minded people and for the opportunities afforded by ISTOP.  

Three people wearing masks engaging in a meeting
President Ryan Renc ensures the Illinois State Theatre Outreach Program is on the same page before moving forward with the group’s meeting.

“I think because we have so many opportunities for those who aren’t super-theatrically minded, it can give a lot of opportunities,” says Renc. 

The group’s advisor, Dr. Jimmy Chrismon, said the group welcomes students outside of the School of Theatre and Dance. 

“I think that is a testament to the students who run the organization and their connections on campus with students outside of our major and people being excited to do something different as far as theatre goes that may not be in the normal wheelhouse, to continue to work in the community and to create change on our campus and in our community through theatre,” said Chrismon, an assistant professor of theatre teacher education. 

Although the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has prevented the group from holding in-person performances the last two years, members have held virtual play readings. 

Senior Sami Casten, marketing chair for ISTOP, said that although the pandemic has changed how the group can operate, ISTOP’s goal has remained the same. “Our job is to bring theatre into the community and talk about current events and what’s happening and start a conversation using theatre.”   

In recent years, ISTOP has put on and read shows such as a Theatre for Young Audiences version of the children’s book Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse by Kevin Henkes, Five Lesbians Eating A Quiche by Andrew Hobgood and Evan Linder, Junie B Jones Is Not A Crook by Allison Gregory adopted from the books by Barbara Park, and Stone Girls Dreaming by Lisa Railsback. 

Chrismon and ISTOP members encourage students with an interest to get involved and give back to their community to join ISTOP. 

“If they enjoy community service and outreach and making a difference beyond just themselves, then this is a fantastic opportunity. It’s just a great group of people who care about people and care about well-being,” Chrismon said. 

Explore opportunities to get involved in Illinois State student organizations at