Theatre People for a Theatre of the People: A Pratical Handbook of Ensemble Theatre as a Social Organizing Force in the Present American Theatre
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Something that I've always loved about theater is it puts me in a room with a big crowd of other people for an extended period of time, and for that time, we are concentrating together on the same thing, without distraction, eyes turned toward the stage. I love running into friends and acquaintances at intermission, and talking about the play after the performance. Grand Rapids Civic Theater productions were exciting for me as a child, if for nothing else, the ritual of theatre in a special space among neighbors. Theatres that explore possibilities for extending this ritual of community gathering intrigue me. Participation on stage in the theatre allowed me to work with other people to create this neighborhood space, and led to stronger bonds with people around me. After my first year at Kalamazoo College I began to realize the extreme limits to "civic theatre." Having studied Asian theatre and American theatre through the lenses of race, gender, and class, I wondered why the plays that I had grown up with in Grand Rapids didn't bother to attempt to include the artistic contributions of a broader range of community members. At that time, I didn't realize that the Little Theatre Movement, predecessor to the civic theatre, once depended on locally written plays, produced with ensemble groups of actors in direct objection to the star system. I had no idea that the United States government once sponsored the Federal Theatre Project, funding hundreds of locally produced plays that were both entertaining and immediately socially relevant. Even more, I didn't lmow of any of the theatres in the United States that were presently working on a local scale to attempt to more fully integrate both the audience and potential audience of community members as well as the artistic contributions of each company member. The website of Cornerstone Theatre Company (http://www,comerstonetheater.org) opened the door to all of this, sent via link by Dr. Menta. The more I have learned, the more possibility I see in my local community theatre and other theatre ventures. A struggle in writing this research was confronting critical writings on ensemble theatres working in their communities. Many of the artists create the work as a celebration or a question, rather than a solution for the community or a protest against a societal· 11 power structure. To some critics, the performances described in this paper were no more than expensive block parties. To others, they functioned as radical forms of democratic dialogue. Often, the theatrical events hover between those two extremes, and I argue both were, and still are worthwhile. I'll always love a good block party.
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