Picture a group of former steelworkers in hard hats performing in a modern adaptation of an ancient Greek play – and similar unorthodox events in diverse communities from East Los Angeles to a fishing village in Maine. It’s Cornerstone Theater’s concept to reach non-traditional theater audiences, according to this Wallace-commissioned feature article.
Two percent of Americans go to see professional theater on a regular basis. We want to reach the other 98 percent as well. The most effective way, we felt, was to involve them in the work.
- Bill Rauch, Founding Member/Artistic Director, Cornerstone Theater Company
Stars of Bethlehem
Picture a group of former steelworkers from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, performing in a modern adaptation of Prometheus Bound. Hard hats and all, these local community members are taking
Candude, or The Optimistic Civil Servant - Los Angeles
center stage - right alongside a team of professional actors. The play, titled Steelbound, is a collaboration between Los Angeles-based Cornerstone Theater Company and Bethlehem's Touchstone Theatre. It commemorates the end of an era when steel was king in this eastern Pennsylvania town. The play draws a full-house audience every night. For many people both onstage and off, Steelbound offers an important sense of closure and a chance to "tell it like it was."
Now imagine similar events taking place in diverse communities from Latino-centered East Los Angeles to a farm town in Kansas, from a group of Native Americans in Nevada to members of a fishing village in Maine. This is the mission of Cornerstone Theater, a concept that was born from an intense desire to reach and engage non-traditional theater audiences.
Creating New Traditions
L.A. Bus Plays - Los Angeles
Founded in 1986, Cornerstone Theater Company stages original productions and adaptations of classic plays in communities that often have little or no active theater tradition. According to Cornerstone's Managing Director, Leslie Tamaribuchi, the process involves close collaboration between local citizens and Cornerstone's ensemble of actors and theater specialists. By writing local concerns into the scripts, involving the community in key roles and building local references into costumes and sets, Cornerstone helps ensure the plays have special relevance to each group. Says Tamaribuchi, "We often have sold-out houses. One reason is that we take the time to form advisory groups, so we get to know each community and understand the issues it deals with. The more in-depth our understanding, the richer and more relevant the art is and the stronger the bridges we can build."
Cornerstone-in collaboration with more than 60 rural communities and urban neighborhoods-has mounted nearly 1000 performances of 48 plays. A production of Romeo and Juliet in Port Gibson, Mississippi, for example, featured an integrated cast in the roles of Montagues and Capulets. And, in Los Angeles, the musical Candude, Or the Optimistic Civil Servant, featured LAPD, public library, postal service and public transportation employees.
Since moving to Los Angeles in 1991, Cornerstone has also created and performed new productions in concert with LA neighborhoods from Watts to Chinatown to Angelus Plaza, a low-income housing project for seniors. In all, more than 1000 participants have been involved in Cornerstone's community collaborations nationwide.
Fanning the Flame
Broken Hearts - Los Angeles
Cornerstone Theater's unique approach has attracted considerable support. As a result, it has been able to establish a working capital reserve; productions are mounted in larger venues; and the number of performances has increased. Perhaps most important, it now has the resources to sustain the local momentum it creates. In a new series of workshops, writing, directing and production is being offered to community cast members and other interested citizens. "By giving people the tools they need to mount their own productions, we are helping to support a flourishing tradition of performance in every community we touch," says Tamaribuchi.
*Requires Real Audio Player or VLC Media Player.