1) Before doing community-engaged work, try to understand all your partners' bureaucracies. With Mosaic and Laman, the bureaucracy primarily involved getting permission on all publicity materials. Pulaski Tech was a bigger beast. Of course, PTC supplied the money to produce the work, and we are abundantly thankful to them. I had no idea, however, that the bureaucracy there was so very involved--setting up vendors, waiting on P.O. approval and information about next steps, depending on other people to make orders. The take-home lesson here is that planning for a community-engaged project should probably take place about a year in advance.
2) Be confident in your knowledge of your population and process. I have worked at PTC for four years now, and I have a very good understanding of the population. Our students sometimes have a difficult time making commitments because of life circumstances. Our entire cast was NEVER on time. We rarely had the ENTIRE cast present. I didn't know what the show would actually look like until dress rehearsal. Part of me thinks that this issue could be addressed over time through the cultivation of a theatre culture--a culture that values hard work, punctuality, and pushing oneself to the absolute limit. When I consider my students' lives, however....we are not talking about typical college kids whose entire lives are theatre. We are talking about mothers and fathers who juggle full-time work, full-time school, and responsibilities to family. When I consider that fact, I know it is not only about cultivating a theatre culture. This is the reality for the people with whom I work, and they make great sacrifices to create art. My issue is not with my students as much as it is with the guilt/embarrassment I feel when I look at this situation through the eyes of others. This is really about understanding class, and I often found myself in this process feeling guilty that I wasn't harder on my students about being on time, showing up, etc. Yes, it frustrated me to no end when someone was late...especially when it was because their "friend" needed a ride. My inclination is to say "Too bad. You have a pre-standing commitment to us." Then I think about the fact that within a culture where not everyone has a car readily available, providing someone a ride (if you are lucky enough to have a car) is a pre-standing responsibility, too. I want to so a better job of negotiating the requirements of production and my population's specific needs. And I want to make no apologies to others for the reality that my students find themselves in. I do want to explain their reality from a knowledgeable standpoint, but I want to speak from that standpoint in order to educate the person with whom I am talking--not to feel ashamed for understanding where my students are coming from.
3) Stand by your art. Some people were offended by this work. *For Colored Girls* is full of curse words and decidedly feminist (a dirty word in some circles). As a Christian from an evangelical background, it was difficult for me to see that the work I chose to produce offended some people's sense of morality. I have seen the power of this work, though. I understand that Shange's message is one of struggle and hope. I heard cast members and audience members speak to that message. And, anyway, I believe Christ was a feminist, too. When we saw Shange at UALR, she was unapologetic to those whom she offended. "I just don't have time for that, " she said. I don't know if I want to be that unapologetic because I truly want people to UNDERSTAND the value of the work. I believe that understanding comes through conversation rather than writing someone off. There's a balance somewhere there.
1) How can we make community partnerships more substantial and meaningful?
2) How can we start the planning process earlier?
3) How can we bring the necessary people into the planning process earlier?
4) How can we achieve community buy-in like this in every project we do?
5) How can we make the best use of this momentum?
That's a start. I'm sure more questions will arise. Looking forward to the next project!