Educational Efforts Bring Us Together

Engaging audiences by promoting affinities and providing context
by Michael Premsrirat
of The Los Angeles Theatre Center in Los Angeles, CA
Volume V. July-August 2012

Because the play the road weeps. the well runs dry is based on a hidden history, in order to draw audiences to the performances, educational efforts will have to give the public a basis for connecting to the work. Also, educational efforts will go hand-in-hand with the production, giving attendees the context to enjoy and appreciate the performance more profoundly.

One of theater’s strengths is allowing one to see through the eyes of another–celebrating differences and bridging gaps. This vicarious experience is a powerful emotional, as well as intellectual, tool—Brechtian ideas of critical distance notwithstanding. Mr. Gardley’s play connects the audience viscerally to the characters exceptionally well. On the other hand, promoting theater, i.e., getting people in the door, is all about taking advantage of affinities, specifically some kind of connection along an identity axis like race or gender.

Migration will be the primary theme for the Los Angeles production, and that theme will underpin our educational efforts. Los Angeles is a city of immigrants, after all. Mr. Gardley said, “The story found me.” He was excavating his own family history, and it turned out to be an unknown history, but it’s an American story. The task of the local consortium of producing partners will be to engage audiences in L.A. by rallying them around a shared experience of creating a community when the first and only thing in common may be geography. Secondly, educational efforts around the play must begin a dialogue that gets them involved, even though they may not be African American or Native American/American Indian, without resorting to generic universalities of the “human” condition. With these efforts, this is our goal: “The story will find you.” There are so many different ways to connect with this play, because everyone asks themselves, “Where did I come from?”

The aim is audience development through events and community engagement. Off-site events will include bringing the play into the classroom in the spring and fall of 2013, using LATC’s connections with CalArts, CSULA, UCLA, LMU, and USC. This fall, we will talk with academics about working with them in spring 2013, so they can live with the play for a few months in the curriculum, culminating in a play workshop in May, building a cadre of Ambassadors for the production of the play in fall 2013.

Specific events next year, folded into the ongoing programming of our partner organizations, will start with February, African-American History month. Ebony Repertory’s spring play festival will feature a reading of the road weeps…, which will help us build interest in the African-American arts and culture community. To complement the production, as well as cross-promote between theater and visual arts constituents, the California African American Museum will curate an exhibition connected to the play.

In-house at LATC, we will have interpretive displays, an in-program glossary and a concise history of the African-American and Seminole/Creek communities referenced in the play. All of these efforts are deeloped to present an extraordinary experience for an extraordinary play. We look forward to seeing you.

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