“I’m Tom, I’m the Artistic Director of Cape Fear Regional Theatre, and I feel terrified.”
We are a few minutes in to our first workshop with Hidden Voices, the Chapel Hill based non-profit organization we are partnering with on our (Re)Modeling grant. On one side of the table are a range of stake holders from the military community, on the other are staff members from Cape Fear Regional Theatre and Hidden Voices. Lynden Harris has just begun the session by asking everyone to introduce themselves, let everyone at the table know why they are there and how they are feeling. The artists are mostly “excited” and “energized”, the community members from the military are “curious” and “hopeful.” Their body language says “skeptical.” I’m terrified.
Fayetteville is the home of Fort Bragg and the largest military population in the world, and prior to my arrival the military outreach was largely limited to $1 off for active duty service men and women. I was asked, when interviewing for the job, what was the greatest challenge facing the theatre. I responded “You are underserving your community.”
I moved to Fayetteville with my wife, Wallis, and our 2 month old girl Miri. Many of the moms Wallis met had husbands deployed. She would come home and tell me “You need to hear these stories.” Stories of bravery, of community, of heartbreak and joy, of the everyday and the extraordinary. Clearly there was a project here; we just needed to find the right partners and resources.
I heard Kathy Williams of Hidden Voices speak at a panel last summer in Raleigh. Since 2003 Hidden Voices has been collaborating with underrepresented communities to tell their stories. Their Mission Statement lines up with exactly what we want to accomplish: “To challenge, strengthen, and connect our diverse communities through the transformative power of the individual voice.” We found our first partner.
When TCG announced the Audience (R)Evolution program, the opportunity to (Re)Model our entire approach to engagement dropped the final piece into the puzzle. Inspired in part by Nina Simon’s rock star turn at the TCG conference in June with her session on engagement models from outside the theatre world, the idea of putting the military in the center of the art we were making came into focus.
VOICES FROM THE HOMEFRONT focuses on the families of deployed military men and women, and will develop these voices into a piece of documentary theatre, programmed as a stage reading and visual art installation. The grant supports a series of workshops run by Hidden Voices to first explore the intended outcomes and identify community partners, then to gather stories and create visual art pieces designed to give the participants a non-verbal mode of storytelling.
We have commissioned a new play from Mike Wiley, the writer of The Parchman Hour: Songs and Stories of the 1961 Freedom Riders, based on these workshops. The grant supports Mr. Wiley’s participation in the workshops, childcare for the participants, community outreach, the commission of the new play and the staged reading. It is one of the largest projects we have ever undertaken, and I’m excited, and energized… and terrified. I feel a tremendous responsibility to do the stories of these men and women justice.
As the workshop progresses and trust builds, the conversation eases from tentative to enthusiastic. Some of the most interesting stories are swapped over the hands-on art work with visual artist Ashley Florence. We have a terrific team in place. We have the support of the community. Let’s make some theatre that matters!
Tom Quaintance joined Cape Fear Regional Theatre (CFRT) as Artistic Director in 2011 at the top of the theatre’s 50th anniversary season. Tom created the board level Community Engagement Committee and started the Community Engagement Initiative. The first project in that initiative was The Parchman Hour, Songs and Stories of the 1961 Freedom Riders. CFRT received the first NEA grant in its history in support of The Parchman Hour, and the production was one of the most successful shows in the history of the theatre. Voices from the Homefront is the second project in the Community Engagement Initiative. Tom is a graduate the University of California, San Diego MFA directing program. He and his wife Wallis are the proud parents of Mireille Julia.
Audience (R)Evolution is a four-stage program to study, promote and support successful audience engagement and community development models across the country. The Audience (R)Evolution grant program was designed by TCG and is funded by Doris Duke.