Performing Communities

Grassroots Ensemble Theaters Deeply Rooted in Eight U.S. Communities

Introduction by Jan Cohen-Cruz
Edited by Linda Frye Burnham

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Ensemble theater is one of the hottest, most engaging American performance forms today. It's more than art — it's a movement.

Performing Communities is an inquiry into a genre of theater that arises from and empowers the grassroots. The book profiles established ensemble groups from inner-city Los Angeles, small-town northern California, African-American South, multicultural southern Texas, low-income central Appalachia, economically struggling South Bronx New York, and cross-continental Native America.

This compendium of critical writing about the role these theaters play in building community shows how these artist groups are forged by working in and with their communities over time. Ensemble theater is discovered to be neither alternative nor marginalized, but vanguard, a natural evolution of the movement that propelled regional theater "away from the commercial restraints of New York and toward a theater expressive of the rich diversity of American culture." It is theater that is politically and emotionally charged. It can be cathartic, healing, and has a proven ability to effect social change.

The book Performing Communities is a project of the Community Arts Network. It has been created from interviews, analytical essays, and play excerpts from the "Grassroots Theater Ensemble Research Project," an inquiry into American ensemble theaters that have been working in communities for 10 to 35 years. Although originating from a scholarly report, the language has been edited for a popular audience and offers an intimate glimpse into each local ensemble community. The book will appeal to followers of contemporary and popular theater, social change activists, community building specialists, and a public curious about cultural development in the United States.

Robert H. Leonard is a professor in the Department of Theatre Arts at Virginia Tech where he directs the master of fine arts program in directing and public dialogue.

Ann Kilkelly is a professor of performance studies in the Department of Theatre Arts and in the Women's Studies Program in the Department of Interdisciplinary Studies at Virginia Tech.

Jan Cohen-Cruz is a scholar and practitioner of activist and community-based performance. She is currently director of Imagining America, a national consortium of colleges and universities working to strengthen democratic public participation in the humanities, arts, and design.

Linda Frye Burnham is a writer of national reputation on a variety of subjects, with special emphasis in artists working in community, education and activism. She has also written extensively on performance art and feminism and multiculturalism in the arts.


Title Performing Communities
Subtitle Grassroots Ensemble Theaters Deeply Rooted in Eight U.S. Communities
Introduction by Jan Cohen-Cruz
Edited by Linda Frye Burnham
Publisher New Village Press
BISAC Subject Heading ART060000 ART / Performance
Audience 01 General / trade
Credit New Village Press
Title First Published 01 April 2006
Subject Scheme Identifier Code      93 Thema subject category: AFKP      93 Thema subject category: ATD      93 Thema subject category: GTU
Includes Index; Appendices; Commentaries



Editor's Preface by Linda Frye Burnham

Introduction: The Ecology of Theater-in-Community by Jan Cohen-Cruz

Findings: Knowing the Secrets Behind the Laughter by Robert H. Leonard and Ann Kilkelly

Eight Grassroots Ensemble Theaters:

1. Carpetbag Theater Company: Cheerleader for the Revolution

2. Cornerstone Theater Company: Love and Respect at Work in the Creative Process

3. The Dell'Arte Company: Damn Good Theater -- What It Is and How to Get It in Blue Lake, California

4. Jump-Start Performance Co.: Magic Glue -- The Politics and Personality of Jump-Start

5. Los Angeles Poverty Department: Theater as an Act of Citizenship

6. Teatro Pregones: The Twin Rigors of Art and Community, or Not the People Who Said Green

7. Roadside Theater: Little Epiphanies

8. WagonBurner Theater Troop: Laughing at the Edge

Research Notes

End Notes