4. THE FOURTH BRANCH
“I am defined by where I am from and I don’t recognize it anymore.” ~ Fourth Generation Ashevillian
According to Michael Rohd, there are three kinds of theatre practice: studio, social, and civic. Studio may be the most commonly known as it simply a show produced in a theatre for a paying audience. Social, then, is a show created and produced with a certain community in mind, addressing a perceived need within that community. Finally, civic practice is going to the community first, listening and understanding a need, and then creating a piece with them to serve that need. While I love studio practice (and have spent my career up to this point focused on it), the AMC’s mission puts the emphasis on social and civic practice. The Ballad of Romeo and Juliet (see the next blog) is an example of the former, as I adapted it while still in Chicago with the community of the south and specifically Appalachian North Carolina in mind. The latter, I now realize, needs a branch of its own.
I recently went to a weekend intensive at Cornerstone Theater, where their practitioners shared the process the company has used and evolved since the mid-eighties to create community-based theatre. I went because this company has been a major inspiration for the AMC, but I wasn’t entirely sure what specifically I would bring home. I went in search of tools for community artmaking, but didn’t know which ones or how I would apply them. I went open to the possibilities and came home wonderfully full. A part of this is the plan to create the fourth branch.
By this point you’ve probably wondered about the above quote. When I have found myself talking with folk who have deep Asheville roots, I always ask the same question: how do you feel about the transformation this town has gone through in recent years. The response is typically that it is a mixed bag, followed by a few reasons for it. A little while back I had an encounter that began with this same answer, but then the gentleman got quiet and told me that if he had to answer right now, he’d have to say he hates it. I gently pressed him to tell me why and he said the above words. Of course, gentrification is a widespread issue across the country, but Asheville’s version has been especially dramatic—so much so that NPR paid a visit and recorded an episode of Going There with Michel Martin entitled When Your Town Gets Hot. All of this put an idea in my head to create a new American Myth that focused on collecting and performing the history of Asheville’s communities--specifically those whose stories are in danger of being lost. I want to help give voice and value to the past, while teaching the future. I want to create a community-based theatrical event that serves Asheville by building a bridge over the widening gap between the what was and what is.
I'm still not entirely sure what form this project will take. More and more, I'm beginning to sense that Mythville has something to do with it, which would be a departure from a previous idea. In fact, this blog was previously published on the website with a different intro and concluding paragraph. A formless hunch evolves.