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MICHA: The Future of Theater

Making Theatre Accessible: Reaching Across Fields of Study to Engage a Wider Audience

Charles Alexander - 8 July 2014

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Charles Alexander
Making Theatre Accessible: Reaching Across Fields of Study to Engage a Wider Audience
Session 3, 4:30-5

Participants: Charlie Alexander, Andrea Meister, Sean Cackoski, Kara Diana Gonzalez, Leah Walton , Jean Luc, Kara, Shireen

This session discussed ways to engage community organizations, academic departments etcetera in order to build partnerships and engaged audience.

Charlie began the discussion by describing past partnerships. One was a community production that utilized a local colleges art department to create an installation art gallery in which the show could be performed as well as a school production of a Spanish play that what translated into English by the Language department.

Andrea spoke about a production Romeo and Juliet in which several characters were portrayed as drag queens. The producers reached out to LGBT organizations, however, those organizations did not respond. However, when the same production reached out to local businesses those businesses were happy to be a part.

Andrea also spoke about a one woman show about autism that had successfully reached out to community centers for touring.

Leah spoke about her work with children with cerebral palsy and brought up the point that successful partnerships often come when theatres reach out to communities who don’t have voices of their own. She continued to discuss the potential of using theatre as a way to bridge the gap between communities and theatre’s potential responsibility to seek out voiceless communities because of the works ability to transform and empower.

Shireen built off this idea by pointing out that any number of organizations already existed that were doing this sort of work and they would be useful starting points for partnership building. She mentioned the work of Sherman Alexi, and Mike Lew. The potential of piggybacking on preexisting partnerships.

Charlie spoke about a theatre group that was approached by a failing Church as a way to tell its story in order to reinvigorate.

The Theatre in Sacred Spaces Program was brought up. This is a group that houses theatre troupes in churches in order to keep them utilized.

Andrea spoke about a Detroit housing project in which multiple types of organizations were given space as a way of encouraging urban renewal. This led the group into a discussion about gentrification in general and the pattern in which a community in despair is often first reinhabited by artists and becomes the first building block for renewal.

We spoke for a bit about how these partnerships often benefit us, or make us feel good and so seem somehow selfish. Leah mentioned “If you do a mitzah for yourself…it’s still a mitzah.”

Andrea brought up the importance of reputation in theatre. Partnerships can only be successful when the reputation of the participants is healthy.

Shireen brought up the idea we often tell stories with little meaning in theatre…leading to the questions: what stories are told? What stories need to be told? Who needs help telling their story.

Gabriel followed up on this talking about the idea that “community is a story of us as a collective, it is bigger than ourselves” he continued on to describe stories as sentient, asking, “which stories want to be told?” this was followed up by the group asking, Can those stories be heard?

Gabe continued with the observation that he thought stories that were particularly powerful at this time seemed to be about renewal. “we are at the end of winter going into spring”

He went on to describe how making things accessible necessitated listening to what is asking to be accessed.

Shireen brought up a misconception about theatre. That as a community it is often thought to be for the privileged when on the flipside it was really transformative. Charlie spoke about the difference in theatre and drama play. Drama play being largely thought of as very beneficial for personal development in our youth but not necessarily supported as an art form.

Kara brought up the MFA program in Public Discourse at her school which tended to pick shows based on social themes, reaching out to those communities and creating original work that was largely unsuccessful because they were too focused on the message of the work. We then spoke about not sacrificing the quality of the work in order to build partnerships. Partnerships do not need to be driven by message. Kara brought up the thought that it may be more beneficial to consider how preexisting work bounced back to the audience and connected with them. We spent some time on how direction concepts on a show can be dangerous and leave the audience feeling preached to. What is the line between concept and self indulgence?

We moved onto the importance of inviting community with whom you want to create partnerships into the process rather than just being a recipient of a production’s message. In fact these partnerships can be beneficial in unexpected ways. Andrea spoke about the R&J production again citing an actor who based his physicality off one of the business owners that entered into a partnership with the show.

We began to speak about the importance of creating networking webs in order to create partnerships, reaching out to people and letting them know they could be important to your process, being clear how they can fit in to the work. The importance of being vocal about your work, advocating for yourself and your project was the final point of discussion.

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