One of my favorite parts of IA conferences are the visits to sites where partnerships between faculty students and people in cultural and community-based organizations take place. I was part of the visit to Pregones Theatre in the Bronx this year. Artistic director Rosalba Rolon, along with Ping Chong of the company of the same name (celebrating its 40th anniversary), and Kevin Bott of the Dream Freedom Revival, shared expansive conceptions of for whom and for what they make theatre, each in various relationships with colleges and universities. Rolon shared her vision of Circle of Scholars, Circle of Artists in rich and reciprocal exchange. Carol Brzozowski, arts presenter at Syracuse University (SU), described the joys and challenges of collaborating with the local Congolese community with Ping Chong in the creation of Cry for Peace, about that country’s troubled history and efforts toward reconciliation now, whose opening run at Syracuse Stage was seen by 3,000 students. Bott laid out his hybrid job as Imagining America’s associate director at SU, which includes 20% of his time earmarked to develop this theatre project.
All three directors profoundly identify with a larger than typical “theatre crowd” with whom they work. Pregones has a strong neighborhood base in the Bronx (Rosalba: “we don’t talk about communities because we know these people; we talk about them by their names!”) and equally strong relationships with other theatre companies around the world. Chong described his own experience as an outsider, from an immigrant family, drawing him to the Undesirable Elements series, a 20- year exploration of works created with and performed by people who experienced their own stories of outsiderness. Kevin Bott felt isolated in his new geographic community of Syracuse, NY, until he researched local history of the underground railroad and tent revivals to create a Dream Freedom revival, a tent show whose religion is democracy, with new friends and neighbors who also wanted to stand up and sing, dance, and speak out.