Unraveling The History in the Performance

by Fanny Garcia
of The Los Angeles Theatre Center in Los Angeles, CA
Volume VIII. August-September 2013

Collaboration is the key to building audiences and ensuring that number of people who are privy to new work is increased. The collaboration of a theater with a museum has the added benefit of creating a historical context for a play, which is why the Los Angeles Theater Center has decided to collaborate with the California African American Museum (CAAM). The museum opened its doors to the public during the 1984 Olympic Games and is housed at Exposition Park. It’s mission statement is “to research, collect, preserve, and interpret for public enrichment the history, art and culture of African Americans with an emphasis on California and the western U.S.”

The collaboration is perfect for the production of the road weeps, the well runs dry production of Marcus Gardley’s play in Los Angeles, which opens October 24th, 2013.  Chantal Rodriguez, Programming Director & Literary Manager at LATC explains, “we want to give audiences a chance to experience both a performing arts and visual arts experience in the same night, which also speaks to LATC’s unique role as a multi-use, and multi-venue space.”  Rodriguez is passionate about how “multi-pronged” approaches to learning can help audiences understand the historical impact of the play as well as facilitate the “questioning of its absence in dominant forms of history-making.”  The collaboration with CAAM will ensure that audiences that value the intersection of arts, culture, and history will be engaged and help promote the play to a wider audience.

Tiffini Bowers, Museum Curator I of History at CAAM is looking forward to curating the exhibit for the road weeps, the well runs dry which will be housed in the gallery at LATC. Bowers believes the play is unearthing, “a part of history not often talked about and sometimes misunderstood or romanticized, the play offers valuable complexity.”  The exhibit will put on display historic photographs that compliment a little of the rich history of the Seminole Nation and the theme of the play during the time in which the play is set, the mid 1850’s and following the Civil War 1866 in the U.S.  Other artifacts displayed may include articles of clothing that highlight the rich and colorful artistry of Seminole patchwork.  CAAM will be working with other museums and institutions throughout the country to bring the exhibit to fruition.  The goal for Bowers as the curator is to, “draw the individual out of the play, and into visual history – tie people to what’s happening in a real way” and facilitate the understanding of the complexity.

In addition to the exhibit, CAAM and LATC will host a conversation with the play’s director Shirley Jo Finney and playwright Marcus Gardley at the gallery space.  To ensure a cross-pollination of audiences, LATC will be offering museum members a 50% discount on tickets for the play on the night of the conversation. Theater and Museum collaboration is only one of the ways LATC is working on building audience. Collaborations with other theaters have been instrumental.  Native Voices at the Autry, for example, has helped with the casting of Native American actors for the play and marketing the play to Native audiences in and around Los Angeles.

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