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When Cornerstone Theater Company first arrived in Los Angeles, staff hoped they would one day bring all of the local communities with which they had worked together in a citywide bridge show. In December 2000, that dream becomes a reality when 14 diverse communities gather onstage, backstage and in the audience in an epic multi-lingual, musical play.
As a part of the development process leading up to the production, Cornerstone is offering these communities free theater workshops. Ten workshops are being held in ten different neighborhoods, reaching all fourteen communities. Some are defined geographically, some professionally, others culturally. Nine of the workshop communities include Angelus Plaza (participants are elderly residents), Arab American, Baldwin Hills, Beverly Hills, Boyle Heights, Bus Riders Union, Chinatown (participants are 4th graders at Castelar School), Pacoima (for teens) and Watts. The 10th workshop combines "anyone born on June 30th" with police, public library, public transit and postal service employees.
Each workshop will offer a theater experience led by professionals introducing acting, improvisation, or writing.
How do you break down barriers and get local participants involved in meetings and workshops? Here are three examples Cornerstone often uses:
A Question for Our Community
As they sit in a circle, participants are asked to think about what one question they would want to ask everybody in their community. Each person writes his or her question down, then reads it aloud in turn. On the next go-round, each person chooses to answer one of the questions they heard. Participants then discuss the results.
Check In, Check Out
At the beginning of each meeting, someone in the circle "starts" and says what he or she is feeling at that moment. This exercise encourages everyone to be in the present, and also to create a shared starting point. Facilitators at meetings are encouraged to keep the check-ins moving along, allowing room for sharing as well as focusing the group on the meeting's agenda. At the end of each meeting, check-outs are done.
Here are three examples in which everyone is standing together in an open space:
1) Imagining that the room is a map, the leader determines where North is, and participants are asked to stand in their birthplace. They are then asked to engage in a conversation with the individuals they are standing next to and find out three things they have in common.
2) The leader gives each corner of the room a different criterion -- for example, family birth status as the oldest child, middle, youngest or only child. Participants are then asked to stand in the corner that correlates to them. Each group lists three things everyone in their corner has in common.
3) The leader creates a line that is used to delineate extremes. eg: class structure (working-upper), political spectrum (conservative-liberal), gun status (have fired, have not). Participants place themselves somewhere along the line, their positions determined by their beliefs or experience.