More and more, I remind myself to look out the window of the theater and see if the people on the sidewalk have any relationship to the people or the story on the stage.
I moved away from Chicago in June. Saying goodbye to the rough winters was easy. Bidding adieu to my family of storefront theatre artists was not. A truly brilliant community of people, I was able to surround myself with the best and brightest at events like the first Chicago Theatre Anti-Conference last summer. Through the magic of the internet, I was able to attend the second CTAC this year, by keeping up with Twitter hashtags and Facebook posts. As I walked the streets of my new home, the San Francisco Bay Area (side note: an equally windy city at times), I was able to keep up with the conversation. I was scrolling through the live-tweeting of a panel featuring Chay Yew, the new Artistic Director of Victory Gardens in Chicago, when I came across an interesting tweet from Chicago writer and actor, Joe Zarrow. @JZarrow.
On that particular Sunday, I was waiting outside for a production meeting to start. The show is called Hunter’s Point by Elizabeth Gjelten and it’s “a play with music and bicycles about fierce outsiders, the complicated love of sisters, and the meaning of home.” I am serving as the Assistant Director/Producer of the show under Christine Young. Our production meeting, the first meeting with all of our brilliant designers in the same room, was at our performance space, St. Boniface Church, in the middle of the Tenderloin. This neighborhood, while being home to some of the bigger theater houses, has a seedy reputation, as evidenced by simply walking down the sidewalk. More than that, the Tenderloin is San Francisco’s epicenter of homelessness, drug dealing, and social services for the homeless. Last Sunday, I weaved my way through a crowd of excited theatre goers lined up for Billy Elliot, only to come out on the other side and nearly trip over a wayward soul on the sidewalk. I then went into our space, a few blocks away, to plan a show about and for that soul resting on the sidewalk.
Strange Angels Theater, the producing company, is partnering with the Gubbio Project to produce Hunter’s Point. The Gubbio Project works in St. Boniface during the day, opening it as a sanctuary to the homeless to sleep or just reside in a safe place for a few hours. The Hunter’s Point team is doing a lot of strong work reaching out to health care providers and different organizations dealing with mental illness and homelessness, such as the St. Anthony Foundation and various coalitions of SROs in the Tenderloin. It is important to us that everyone in the spectrum is represented; health care providers, volunteers, the homeless themselves, and family members of the latter. In addition, no one will be turned away due to lack of funds, and donations will be going toward furthering the work of the Gubbio Project.
When I was in Chicago, I worked with an amazing company for two years, Theatre Seven of Chicago. Part of Theatre Seven’s mission is to produce work that speaks to the people of Chicago. The last two projects that T7 has produced have been especially Chicago-centric. The Chicago Landmark Project, though the theater space was in the middle of Lincoln Park, told the story of dozens of diverse Chicagoans, each at a different intersection of the city. We Live Here (currently running) features the autobiographical stories and experiences of a conglomerate of Chicago writers. These two shows allowed audiences of diverse backgrounds and location to connect to the stories onstage.
Much can be done by pounding the pavement and meeting the people of your city, your neighborhood, your block. Theatre can be transformative for those who feel represented on stage and are given the chance to actually see an opportunity for life to get better. Five women walked out of Hunter’s Point rehearsal the other night to a street lined with men sleeping against walls, some covered in blankets, some not. Our director approached a man reading a book next to the church gate and offered him the leftover rehearsal snacks. He took them, thanked her, and the five of us filed off to our respective homes. It was a simple gesture, both in the giving and the receiving, and I was very moved. Our hope is to communicate some part of this man’s story onstage.