Initiated in late Fall 2010, this community dialogue project, utilizing participatory theatre and music techniques, partnered the Department of Theatre & Cinema at Virginia Tech with the New River Valley Planning District Commission (NRVPDC) and its 3-year regional planning project, The Livability Initiative. As a strategy in gathering qualitative data through community members’ thoughts and feelings about life in the region, Building Home was commissioned as a group of actors, musicians, and public dialogue facilitators to host small community gatherings where citizens could express their views on life in the NRV—as it is now and could be in the future. The project was led by Professor Robert H. Leonard and Jon Catherwood-Ginn, then a graduate student in the MFA program in Directing and Public Dialogue.
Project achievements include:
- 20+ community gatherings reaching 1,000 participants around the four counties and the City of Radford
- A week-long residency with award-winning civic-dialogue theatre ensembles Sojourn Theatre and Theatre of the Emerging American Moment (TEAM),
- The development of two original plays-in-process titled Whether System and …behind a stranger’s face…. The first piece featured New River Valley citizens’ stories and participated in the national civic dialogue project Town Hall Nation. The second blended locals’ stories, flatfooting, stepping, old time music, and spoken word with opportunities for audience discussion on intercultural and interracial dialogue in the New River Valley. …behind a stranger’s face… toured to several venues in the Valley, as well as performing in VT’s Theatre 101.
- The development and facilitation of BUILT NRV a public dialogue board game, designed by Sojourn Theatre and specifically tailored for this Southwest Virginia region, about rural planning in communities throughout the New River Valley
- Repeated invitations to present excerpts of …behind a stranger’s face… as a facilitation tool for community discussion of race in the workplace.
The Jo Carson Project
The Jo Carson Project, led by MFA graduate student in Directing and Public Dialogue, Vince DeGeorge, was a devised theatre piece that explored and honored the writings and theories of the late Jo Carson (1946- 2011). Jo Carson was a storyteller. She was a playwright, an activist, a grassroots artist, a theorist, a philosopher, and a healer. She is perhaps best remembered for her work as the collector and dramatist of over 30 community oral histories throughout Appalachia, the Deep South and the Midwest. The text is a tapestry of stories, some taken from the plays, poems, essays and short story collections of Jo Carson, some found in research for this project, which included interviews with community members here in the NRV and throughout the Southeast who knew Jo Carson and/or her work. This text is woven together into a celebration of the healing power of storytelling.
Loosely based on Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex, this original performance piece, created under the artistic leadership of Julia Katz, then an undergraduate in the Department of Theatre and Cinema and a student of Professor Leonard, brought to light the unseen chain between American consumerism and Third World production, and the choice to deny reality to avoid an uncomfortable truth. The production balanced a local/global focus, contrasting conditions in the New River Valley with the consequences of globalization, and illustrated how developed nations have blinded themselves from the reality of human rights conditions in developing countries. Research for this project employed interviews and other primary source retrieval methods, on campus and off.
Impromptu Glorious Chorus
Theatre faculty member Ann Kilkelly arranged for a series of singing events led by visiting artist Elise Witt as part of the opening celebrations for the Center for the Arts. Elise Witt is a singer, composer, recording artist, educator, and community activist from Atlanta. The Chorus project culminated with a performance by community participants during the Center for the Arts Community Open House on November 3, 2013. This communal music-making project was open to everyone who wanted to sing. Together, voices from across the community came together to celebrate the magic of collaboraiton and the human spirit.