I had a really great experience this past weekend. I was lucky enough to travel down to MacLaren Correctional Facility in Woodburn, Oregon and direct a series plays by some of teh inmates there. I'd been to the class before, but this was the first time that the playwrights were able to hear their plays read by professional actors in front of an audience. I don't really know what I was expecting from it, but whatever that was, the end result far exceeded my expectations. One playwright sat in the front row with tears in his eyes and another, after hearing his reading, simply said, "that was the best moment of my entire life."
It made me feel so happy. Not only because I got to see these young men come into their own, but also because it reminded me of the inherent power that the theatre medium possess. Working on the inside of it, I often forget how powerful it can be, ESPECIALLY for those who are not exposed to it. Every single one of these playwrights had never even a play. You would never know to have seen their transformation and their ideas on stage. Were they polished plays ready for production at a leading theatre? No. They were however, brave, imaginative, and full of positive intentions.
This goes back to one of my original posts about theater education. How do we expose populations that are underserved by the arts to their power. Of course, funding is key, but what precisely can we do. Offering tickets to schools that are in more urban areas with a higher drop-out rate, is a great place to start. However, then bussing them to the show is an added cost. Having a touring educational arm of a theatre is a great idea. Bringing art to people on their own turf allows them to take it in on their own terms. Also, I think this makes theatre have less mystique around it. There is no massive "Ivory Tower"-like building to encounter and conquer.
However, I don't think that schools are the only places to visit. There are so many other places in a community where people have not been exposed to the arts. Prisons, shelters, half-way houses, Boys and Girls Clubs. These are just for starters. Having been all around the country, I think that Ten Thousand Things in Minneapolis is really a model that we should all be looking at. Michelle Hensley has been doing phenomenal things for everyone in the state of Minnesota for years. They bring art to people who are in need. And art changes the lives that they touch.
I do think that we do need to bring art to people on their own terms. We need to make it easier for them. Art is for everyone. I know it takes work, but as artists we need to make the effort so that thetre does not become a masoleum to its own excesses.
I'm really hoping to take the experience that I had this past weekend and build on it. I know one thing for sure. I will never forget it and that is a first step.