Monday, June 20, 2011

Inspiration: Turning abandoned buildings into theaters and turning landmarks into landmark productions

Posted By on Mon, Jun 20, 2011 at 11:19 AM

Heres a landmark. Wheres the theater?
  • Here's a landmark. Where's the theater?
Few theater projects have taken hold of my imagination like The Chicago Landmark Project. And I think Memphis theater artists should consider teaming up to do something similar. The project in a nutshell: Twelve Chicago playwrights created site-specific plays tied to street corners, neighborhoods, and places of historical significance. Some were rooted in Chicago history while others were contemporary, using the location as a springboard for the artists' imaginations.

I like this project so much because it makes theater useful. It encourages artists to consider how we impact our landscapes and how those landscapes, in turn, impact us. It helps us understand the meaning of community on both the micro, and macro scale. And it also gets live theater outside of the institutions that define the state of the art for better and for worse.

Memphis has fantastic landmarks and a rich history crammed tic-tight with cultural contributions and terrible conflict. An every-other-year festival that aims to sift through past conflicts while also looking at what it means to live in Memphis today has a lot of potential to grow audiences, and could create bridges and foster partnerships between performing artists and groups like UrbanArt and Memphis Heritage.

Also, if Intermission Impossible had a fat travel budget I would have attended this conference about the value of converting abandoned buildings into performing arts spaces. All a Memphian has to do is look at areas like South Main, Broad Ave., and the Edge to understand that the transformative power of an artists' community isn't some risky theory that requires years and years of cost prohibitive testing. Memphis is rich in empty, unused spaces and those spaces function like cancer cells in a community, helping to encourage decay and decline. Art may not be the cure in every case, but it's a proven antidote to further deterioration.

I've always loved the idea of community theater which is something our "community theaters" provide in only the most nominal sense. Real community theater is more likely to be found in church basements, and backyards. But what would happen if there were more neighborhood spaces dedicated to live performance? Would such a thing result in even more revivals of The Odd Couple or would we begin to see the flavor of the neighborhoods reflected in the offerings? It's impossible to know, of course, but worth thinking about.

We're in that limbo period between seasons when there are only a few openings to blog about. So I thought it might be fun to take this time to look beyond Shelby Co. and, perhaps, into the future. Thoughts?

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