Gang threats, drug-addicted parents, drive-by shootings: we know the circumstances of low-income teens in Chicago because the media cover such things on a daily basis. What we don’t know is what all this does to a kid’s soul. TeenStreet’s Learning to Breathe in a Box tells us. The 12 members of the ensemble, Free Street Theater’s youth troupe from all over Chicago, do more than a bit of soul mining–they conjure up their own spirit through poetry, dance, and rhythm. The poems they write aren’t pretty, their dances aren’t joyful: Learning to Breathe in a Box is about death, fear, and irrefutable faith. But the group, working with director Ron Bieganski and percussionist Winston Damon, creates a beautiful collage of raw emotion. Their ensemble acting is impressive; the effect is overwhelmingly sad. If it seems too sad to be true, stick around for the postshow discussion and get the lowdown from the sources. Pulaski Park, 1419 W. Blackhawk, 772-7248. Through March 26: Fridays, 7 PM; Saturdays, 3 PM. $8.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Dan Rest.