Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Amplifying the Voice of the Community Through Stories and Songs

For the second year in a row, TFTT founding playwright and producer Derek McPhatter has re-teamed with Chicago's Lyric Opera to collaborate on their Chicago Voices Community Created Performances: Stories and Songs of Chicago. The program gives three community based performance ensembles the opportunity to bring their stories to life through onstage in dialogue and song in a one-day only event which will be held on Saturday, Sept 10th. 

As the scriptwriter on this project Derek worked with the three groups who were selected to participate to help them develop the stories, in conjunction with an assigned creative team, which will culminate in three separate vignettes that comprises a full length program. Several weeks ago, we shared a blog that Derek wrote about his role in this incredible event.  Derek also took a few minutes to give us the exclusive in a video and you can also read a short Q&A we did with him as well.  If you're in the Chicago area, we hope you stop by to catch this inspiring and powerful event this coming weekend.

Q: Tell us about your collaboration with Lyric Opera of Chicago Chicago Voices program and your role in this project.
D: I’m the scriptwriter for the Lyric Opera’s 2017 Community Created Performances project, part of a suite of exciting song-centered programming administered via the Lyric’s Chicago Voices Initiative.

Community Created Performances seeks to celebrate the untold stories of Chicago in song, and has provided three community-based creative ensembles in Chicago with professional teams to create and perform original music theater works.

So as scriptwriter I’ve been in creative development workshops with three different ensembles all summer, guiding the story development process and building the script for each show.

Q: This is your second year working on Chicago Voices. What made you want to sign up for a second time?
D: Last year’s experience has been a highlight of my professional career. I worked with Harmony Hope and Healing, which uses the power of music to build community with Chicagoans struggling with homelessness, substance abuse, and a whole range of other challenges.

The Lyric invited me back this year, not just to work on one new show, but to develop scripts for all three ensembles: Kuumba Lynx, YOLO Boomers, and The Blu Rhythm Collective. That presented quite a challenge and a learning opportunity. So of course I said yes.

Q: How can theaters and opera companies can bring more of these kind projects that reflects age and racial diversity to the stage?
A: I think Community Created Performances is a model of real and meaningful community engagement work. So many community programs at arts organizations are aimed at getting more culturally and economically diverse communities to attend performances or educational offerings. But CCP engages communities by investing resources in supporting their own creativity.

That’s a whole other level of commitment, and I think the impact is undeniable: each of these groups is rising to the occasion, creating some really amazing original new work, types of work we wouldn’t see via the standard commissioning or booking approach most organizations take to their programming.

Artistic Directors and other arts leaders have a great opportunity and responsibility as they select and develop new programming, and it’s always exciting to see how they shape seasons and productions with the artists they work with. But with CCP, that power is entrusted with the public (via a public voting process) that really has put the power back in the hands of the community itself. I think programs like CCP should be part of the mix at more institutions, particularly ones blessed with broad resources like the Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Q. You have a sci-fi musical theater project called Bring The Beat Back, which was presented as a work in progress at JACK this past season. Has working on Chicago Voices inspired you to seek out more musical theater or opera based projects?

A: I used Bring the Beat Back as my writing sample as I pursued this gig last year. I do have some other music theater projects in the mix, but they are in the early concept phase so I don’t have much to share. But CCP has definitely help me build my musical theater chops, and informed my development strategy with Bring the Beat Back (more on that very soon too.)

Q. Finally, what should we expect to see in your from your upcoming play, Serious Adverse Effects, that is being developed through National Black Theater's I Am Soul residency and is being presented next year?


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