Having served previously as both an artistic director and resident company member as an actor/director in different companies, my personal evolution went from being the only non-white company member in an ensemble to serving in the leadership capacity as a Latina in order to engage Latino/a audiences in particular. Once there, we focused on the developing and producing of Latino/a works. The focus came from a necessity to increase the awareness of Latino/a work and more importantly, to develop and support plays about Latino/a culture.
In both cases, new work has had the most audience involvement because it begins with a dialogue, talk back and sharing of process. A sense of ownership and community helps the audience to return and revisit in order to see how the work evolves.
There was one original show in particular (IN THE WEST) that became a ‘cult’ favorite in Austin. People would brag about how many times they had seen it! It ran for six years and the Austin Chronicle, when it commemorated its twenty year anniversary described it as “the little monologue show that changed Austin theatre!” When we first developed it, we thought at the time that we were just doing a one week-end showing of a workshop process! When a national music writer came to town to review a well- known artist and he happened to see our show, he wrote a glowing review of it for Variety. Soon after, more than one Broadway producer flew in to watch it. Because sixteen company members “owned” the piece, it was an unruly negotiation that ultimately proved impractical. However, this show still holds the record for being the second longest running theater show in Austin’s theatre history. And it taught me a lot about the power of word of mouth regarding ’homegrown’ work that authentically reflects its region. In this case, it was our company’s response to a powerful photographic exhibit (Richard Avedon’s: IN THE AMERICAN WEST) which became the zeitgeist of simplicity meets authenticity as Avedon’s work, which inspired it, also became an instant classic in museums. (Amparo as Carla in IN THE WEST, 1985 pictured above)
For the last five years, I have created and focused on a monthly storytelling series entitled: THE LIVING ROOM: STORYTIME FOR GROWN-UPS. In the five years that it has existed, we have gone from 40 regular audience members attending to 280-300 per show.
This project has become a renaissance in my own artistic development because of the deep exploration I do about the power of story at its most stripped down and most human interactive possibility. Six storytellers, often three men, three women (I always tell the last story of the night) present their tales and regularly one of the storytellers per series is a musician storyteller.
The storytellers come together through a theme that ties the tales together, the looser and broader the better. At its heart, the Living Room is about brave living and the hero’s journey for meaning. The stories are often mystical, profane and usually reckoning with God, Sex and Death in the tireless search for Love at the root of it all. Because there is no “acting” involved in the traditional sense of the word, the “show” is bare bones: raw and basic with an expressive, soulful telling of transformation against all odds and the truthful willingness on the part of the storyteller to come undone—anew. In some ways, its the real life version of what IN THE WEST was attempting to create in ‘play’ form. In a digital age where honesty and vulnerability are less witnessed via text, for example, I observe the audience discovering that to live, love and breathe story in every form possible begins with the well-lived life. And the solitary voice willing to share it. By well lived I mean, always at the root of the story, is an individual willing to make meaning of what shows up in their lives.
Storytelling, I am finding, is big medicine for both the storyteller and the listener. (And the research shows that its physically healthy for our hearts and brains.) Narrative is now known to support bilateral integration of left and right hemispheres, neurological integration of upper and lower brain, nervous system/emotional regulation, cohesiveness, resilience and healthy relational attainment. (The Developing Mind by Dan Siegel) I am the privileged one witnessing the seed from where the next story begins—which originates with the impulse of a perfect stranger to sign up or say—“I have a story about. . . .” and then enters into process with me through dialogue.
As the curator/dramaturge of the story, we witness quickly how time and the time limit per slot becomes the ‘artful’ crafting of the tale. It isn’t different from work-shopping a play— in this case, a one person ’short’ play. It is this interaction, I have noticed, from which lasting community and faithful attendance of the event begins.
In the five years I have hosted this event, I have seen first-hand that nothing is more ‘holistic’ or contributes more to ‘community wellness’ then one solitary storyteller at a time, telling their true experience—unabashedly to the audience. The diversity in age, occupation and race which on any given night can range from the girl next door to one of our Texas State elected Representatives telling their individual, very personal, true tales right next to the other, DOES capture our “gather around the campfire” attention. And— it keeps it.
(Image: THE WILDERNESS STORIES with (l to r): Terry Teaters, SHAKEY GRAVES (Alejandro Rose-Garcia), Aralyn Hughes, Amparo Garcia-Crow, Brad Rockwell and David Halley)
If a group of theatres were to collaborate within the same city or across cities and states to share resources and ideas focused on audience ‘evolution, maybe that would involve one “little” show a season, one storytelling series at a time, traveling to a different venue in the same city or across cities and states, and ‘re-place’ one offering in their host theatre’s season? We could AirBnB shows! We step into each other lives, apartments and lifestyles like the Greeks used to do during Dionysus festivals where you were given permission to leave your “identity” for a short time to take on a new “life” or person for a time, knowing full well you will return home again renewed for having done so? And—we’d have a great story to tell the community about it! Renewing our coffers for the next offering!
Amparo Garcia-Crow is a multi-disciplinary artist who acts, sings, directs and writes plays, screenplays and songs. As a playwright, Garcia-Crow has been developed at South Coast Repertory Theatre and has had world premieres Off-Broadway, Actor’s Theatre of Louisville, Latino Chicago and various theaters and universities in the Southwest. Recently as an artist in residence with NYC’s Mabou Mines she began developing “Strip” a new musical and her “Unknown Soldier: The New American Musical of Mexican Descent” is featured in Hector Galen’s PBS documentary: “Visiones (Visions): Latino Art and Culture” on PBS. A former James Michener Fellow, Amparo won the Larry King Playwriting Award for her play, “Cocks Have Claws and Wings to Fly and the national Mae West Festival’s “Best Female Protagonist” award for her play “Esmeralda Blue: La Mujer Moderna.”” As an actress Amparo has performed at the Kennedy Center and other regional theaters in the Southwest and can be seen on NBC’s FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS and ABC’s THE LYING GAME as well as various independent films, commercials and industrials. As a director, Amparo has received the prestigious NEA/TCG Director’s Fellowship and worked on new play development at various theaters including the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles. Her most recent film “Love in the Sixties” is currently in film festivals (The Santa Cruz Film Festival); “Death Rattle” which she wrote and produced premiered at the Los Angeles Latino International and Cine las Americas; “Loaves and Fishes” (which she also stars in) aired on the PBS series “Territories”, after premiering at SXSW Film Festival and the Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival. She has also produced independent musical releases of her musical compositions and been a Master Acting teacher for the MFA Acting program at the University of Texas where she also taught directing and playwriting. Currently she is the founder and host of THE LIVING ROOM: Storytime for Grownups and a Teaching Artist at Austin Community College after serving as the inaugural Program Manager for the City of Austin’s new sixteen million dollar Mexican American Cultural Center. A collection of her work entitled: “Between Misery and the Sun: The South Texas Plays” is published by No Passport Press. She is based in Austin, Texas. Visit her at www.amparogarciacrow.com
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.